Thursday, January 28, 2010

Food 101: Michael Pollan on Oprah

Michael Pollan talks about his point of view regarding food and discusses his book Food Rules. Food 101 needs to be a required course for everyone here in the United States. The documentary Food Inc., is also discussed and I highly recommend it. Everyone wants to deny what is going on in our food industry. They especially want to ignore the cruel and brutal practice of factory farming because they enjoy the convenience and taste of cheap, fast food. It's time to face facts and take a look at the high price of cheap food.

Monsanto: Genetically Unethical

Monsanto (agriculture giant) has made the list of the Twelve Least Ethical Companies... and they won first place. Genetically modified foods are a hot topic in the controversial field of nutrition and food. My point of view is that they already lead to a myriad of existing problems and more will continue to present themselves. Monsanto not only designs frankenfoods, they unfairly sue small farmers who try and grow food ethically. Even if the suits are not successful, by the time the small farmer is through paying their lawyers, they are finished, thus achieving Monsanto's goal.

Book recommendation: The World According to Monsanto by Marie-Monique Robin. This is also a documentary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Food Rules for a Fool

Guest Post by Sheldon Woytek

I hear the name Michael Pollan quite often. Along with, “Marion Nestle said...,” I hear his name almost daily. Despite this, I’ve yet to read a book of his (or Nestle’s) - unlike Alely, I am not a harbinger of health. I’m sure I’ve heard quotes from his previous books, none of which I remember. And I’m sure some of his principles on eating have been subconsciously passed onto me through Alely’s passion - though, I’ve never been an adherent. It wasn’t until his most recent book, Food Rules, that I was able to get a clear picture of what Pollan is trying to say.

Pollan isn’t a dietitian, nutritionist, or a food scientist - he definitely dislikes the latter. He doesn’t work for the health department, a hospital or the Food and Drug Administration - he’s more honest than the latter. Pollan is an investigative journalist and a journalism professor at UC Berkeley. I didn’t know this until I was researching a trip for Alely to visit Berkeley at the end of 2009. Her goal was to attend a lecture given by Marion Nestle on food politics. While planning her trip, I found that Nestle was scheduled to be a guest speaker for Pollan’s journalism class. The two seem to be quite good friends on the food front. I’m not sure what spurred Pollan to tackle food, farming, eating and health, but he finally caught my attention with his latest book.

Alely introduced me to Food Rules in mid-January. It’s a condensed version of Pollan’s In Defense of Food, written for non-nutritionists. This is not a diet book; it’s a way of life. In mid-December, I had recently made a resolution to join the health coup. January one was a few weeks away, but why wait? I decided to start burning calories through light exercise, but I had no interest in eating less or eating healthy. At Borders one day, Alely mentioned picking up Pollan’s new book. While she went off order a tea and read a magazine, I set out for the computer section. Before I returned to my tea-sipping sweetie, I decided to find her a copy of Food Rules. As I sat at the table, among the dozens of other reading patrons, I began to flip through an eater’s manual.

The subtitle is most fitting. It’s a common sense, why didn’t I see it that way before, kind of manual. The first thing I noticed was that the book is set up in bite-sized rules, rarely more than a page long. Each rule resides in one of the book’s three parts: What Should I Eat?, What Kind of Food Should I Eat?, and How Should I Eat? The first section lays out what is, and is not, food: “Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.” The second section sets the rules to determine which “food” is food: “Don’t eat breakfast cereals that change the color of your milk.” The final section covers how to eat - this section contains one of my favorite rules: "Stop eating before you’re full.”

It’s my favorite rule because of its explanation, which follow several of his one-sentence rules. As a forced student of French, I learned the French way of saying, “I’m hungry.” Pollan explains that the literal translation of the French phrase is, “I have hunger.” When the French are done they are not full, they have no more hunger. This rule alone made me realize that the American way of eating is simply ignorant. I was always asked as a child, “are you full?” Why eat until we can’t eat anymore. Why not eat until our hunger is satisfied, then stop - that is after all, how we quench our thirst.

We all Need a New York State of Mind

Trans fats, smoking, calorie posts, soft drinks, now salts!

New York was the first state to regulate trans fats in restaurants and fast food chains. It also launched the first anti-smoking campaign and required restaurants and fast food chains to post calorie counts on their menus. Recently, they have launched a campaign discouraging soft drink consumption called Don’t Drink Your Self FAT. Today, they’ve begun the battle against salt! If this battle is won, restaurants and fast food chains may be required to lower the amount of salt in their meals by twenty-five percent. More battles are necessary to win the war; so far, it looks like New York just might lead the rest of the nation to victory!

See you in The Big Apple.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Stretching my Miles

Running is my thing. Some people cycle, attend yoga classes, lift weights, or engage in another specific activity of choice to keep fit and have fun, but running is my favorite. I love it for its simplicity and low cost. You can run anywhere - all you need is a pair of sneakers. Most of all, I just love that “runner’s high.” I’d run everyday, but my knee won’t allow it. I cross train in many different activities, especially hiking, rollerblading, swimming, and spin classes. I enjoy them all and soon I hope to add mountain biking to this list. This still is not good enough.

Throughout history, cardiovascular fitness (mainly in the form of running!) has been part of our daily lives. It began as a necessity and progressed into a leisure activity as humans faced less danger. We used to have to chase after our food, run away from becoming food, and run for transportation (Pheidippides’s 26.2 mile run that begot the marathon). Similarly, strength training was part of our everyday life. Exercise patterns have diverged and we choose a physical activity based on enjoyment instead of survival.

Although there is an enormous variety of physical activities practiced, they can each be categorized as one of three basic forms; strength training (weights, resistance), cardiovascular (running, cycling), and stretching (palates, yoga). It is ideal to engage in all three, but most of us gravitate towards one kind. This is a bad trend. Some form of cardiovascular fitness is crucial, even for someone who is slender and wants to gain muscle mass. The heart is a muscle; the best way to give it a work out is through cardiovascular fitness. Stretching prevents injury and promotes balance. Strength training helps prevent injuries, tones and strengthens muscles, and improves performance.

Strength training is not my thing, but I do it. Stretching... well, I could work on incorporating a few yoga classes into my week. We all need to embrace each form of physical fitness for optimum performance and injury prevention.

See you on the yoga mat.

Runner's High

A recent trip to Sierra Vista, AZ., made me realize how truly fortunate I am to live in San Diego. Running in Sierra Vista is not pleasant and I found myself wondering how I would die first; hit by a driver high on methamphetamines, attacked by an unleashed dog, or eaten by javelinas. Here in San Diego, my biggest worry is which beach to visit!

In an earlier post, I touted the benefits of the RunKeeper app. Well, here is a peek at today’s run at the harbor, including photos. If you follow the blue link below, you can simply click on a “polaroid” icon and scroll to look through all of the photos.
San Diego Harbor

My San Diego Rave Runs:

San Diego Harbor (featured in above link)

Fiesta Island

Crown Point

Lake Miramar

Balboa Park

Balboa Park Trails

Lake Murray

Mission Bay

Book recommendation: Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Monday, January 18, 2010

Where the West Went Wrong

The Western diet is a nutritional calamity. It began with racism that stems from the days of European settlement in the United States. White immigrants wanted to disassociate themselves with any non-european immigrants. This began with food. All of the non-european immigrants’ meals were plant based and any meat involved was incorporated as a mere seasoning. Furthermore, their meals consisted of stews or a blend of ingredients. Thus began the racist westerners’ creepy concoction of a hunk of meat with a side of starch.1

Back when eighty-percent of the United States were farmers and physically active twelve hours of the day, this diet wasn’t that detrimental; unfortunately, this is no longer the case and we grow larger by the decade. Even worse, this diet has spread to fast, easy meals known as fast food. Fast food then expanded to formerly healthy countries whose citizens are now expanding.

What should we eat instead? For some reason, this is a common question. If meat is not the center of my plate, what on earth will I eat?! The answer is vegetables, legumes, or anything that grows from the ground. My recommendation for the novice plant eater is to throw out all of your cookbooks and buy some ethnic cookbooks. Basically, if you cook an ethnic, non-western meal, you can’t go wrong. Cook a Western meal and you will fail, then get fat, fast.

We are a nation that is in protein overload. Everyone thinks the more protein, the better. Unless you are a patient in a burn unit, or in severe injury recovery, that’s not the case. Our kidneys work extra hard to remove the nitrogen from the larger protein unit. Many people who have undergone the notorious “Atkins Diet” have encountered kidney problems. Likewise, many people who consume the notorious Western Diet are encountering kidney problems. Contrary to omnivorous ignorance, vegans and vegetarians get more protein than they need. Unless you are living off of white rice alone, you are not in danger of Kwashiorkor. Kwashiorkor is the protein deficiency of third world countries who survive solely on white rice, resulting in bloated bellies. Even unprocessed, brown rice contains many essential amino acids.

Meat and the environment... well, that’s another entry.

See you in the produce aisle.

1. Shortridge and Shortridge, The Taste of American Place.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mushrooms: A Love Affair

I love mushrooms! There are so many species and they carry such versatility: Shiitake Burger, Portabello Fajitas, Wild Mushroom Stroganoff, stuffed mushrooms. I could go on forever. It’s a mystery how a food so simple can be so satisfying and satiating.

They are also fascinating. There are so many species of mushrooms encompassing every color of the spectrum. Some mushrooms are prettier than the most lovely flower, while others are uglier than a mandrake. They can kill you, almost kill you, make you hallucinate, or land the starring role in a gourmet meal.

A friend once said to me, “I don’t believe in eating anything that doesn’t have any nutrients.” I cringed. First of all, this came from a girl who drinks diet soda, a product intentionally void of nutrients and loaded with man-made chemicals. Secondly, my favorite fungi may be low in macronutrients (a good thing during an obesity epidemic), but it does have them. Two grams of protein and two grams of carbohydrates, to be specific. That’s a grand total of 16 calories per serving (70 grams). Lastly, they boast significant amounts of micronutrients. Many species are high in fiber and provide thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and biotin (all of which are B vitamins), along with minerals such as selenium, potassium, and phosphorus.

As if I haven’t touted enough reasons to become a mushroom enthusiast, they also provide entertainment. It is a dream of mine to become a successful, avid hunter. A Mushroom Hunter. Mushroom hunters are not gatherers and should never be mistaken for one. It is a daunting, physically and mentally taxing skill that can be highly lucrative (wild mushrooms are expensive) and always rewarding. However, it can also be very dangerous. Identifying edible mushrooms (and avoiding their deadly analogs) is something that must be learned from an expert and they do not give away trade secrets readily. Hunters are very territorial over their treasure-yielding areas and often become aggressive and violent. Despite the dangers, engaging in such challenging work, even if I come home empty handed, is highly appealing. The two species which I am interested in hunting first are Morels and Chanterelles. Someday I will work myself up to truffles.

See you in the forest!

Wild Mushroom Stroganoff:

Olive Oil

1 Small yellow onion, diced

2-3 cups dried, wild mushrooms, reconstituted (chanterelle, porcini, shiitake, cremini)

1 bottle white wine (chardonnay or sauvignon)

1 Tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour

4 cups espagnole sauce

1/2 cup soy sour cream

1 Tablespoon ground mustard

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Reconstitute Mushrooms in 1/2 bottle wine plus water. Saute onion (with salt) in olive oil, then add mushrooms and saute with salt and pepper. Once onion and mushrooms are sauteed, sprinkle in flour and cook to a paste. Add the sauce espagnole and cook at a slow simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix the soy sour cream and mustard together. Pour into the sauce and heat throughout. Drink rest of wine while cooking.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resolve to Exercise for Life!!!

The gyms are packed with people who have resolved to lose weight. They arrive in shiny new shoes, gym bags, and attire. I am jealous of their enthusiasm (and new clothes), but annoyed at the space they take up. As a result, I spend the majority of January running, rollerblading, and hiking outdoors. I rest from strength training and avoid the gym until the third week of January.

I do not completely dislike these new year’s fitness fetuses. As a strong proponent of physical activity, I root for the 1% who stick with their resolution, find exercise addicting, and become life-long exercise enthusiasts. In fact, I would like to recommend two iPhone applications that may appeal to new, and seasoned, athletes.

The first application, my favorite, is RunKeeper. As a runner, I like to visually see my route and how far I ran. This application is great! It gives you verbal updates on your miles and pace. I’ve never been a runner who has kept track of my pace, at least not since high school cross-country. That’s a bad thing, but now that I do know my pace, I push myself accordingly. This application also allows for a “street team." This is a group of friends who provide motivation and support. You don’t want to skip a work out that your friends will know about. Lastly, you can track hikes, bikes, skates, and even your gym work-outs, as well as notes (kind of like a runner’s log). You will find yourself working out harder and longer, in order to see that increase in your monthly miles!

The other application is Lose It. While the name and icon (a scale) imply that it’s a weight loss application, it is useful to keep track of your work outs and nutritional intake, in general. Almost every device and dietary guideline largely overestimate a person’s caloric needs. What impresses me about this application is that it accurately estimates a person’s daily caloric intake.

See you on the streets!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lentils: A Dose of Health and Deliciousness

Lentils are one of my favorite foods. This versatile staple is featured in a plethora of delectable dishes in cuisines across the world: Indian, Persian, Mediterranean, French, and many, many more. Lentil consumption is finally picking up, again, here in the United States. They have been a “poor man’s staple” in the United States for a while, but now, despite their extremely low cost, they are popular among all classes. They also make a great ingredient in the many, savory “pocket pies” around the world. These pies include Sambusas (East Africa), Samosas (South Asia), Empanadas (Spain, Portugal, South America), and Pierogies (Eastern Europe).

In addition to this fascinating tale, they’re quite healthy. They’re low in calories, fat and are packed with fiber. They contain complex carbohydrates - carbohydrates which contain three or more glucose (simple sugar) molecules and are highly branched providing the cellulose structure in plants. Foods with complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber, and the body breaks down the carbohydrate more slowly. High fiber results in higher levels of satiety, staving off hunger!

Furthermore, they’re high in protein. They contain all of the essential amino acids (those which the body does not make) except for methionine and cystine. However, when they are eaten with rice, or another grain, this is not an issue. And sprouted lentils do contain all essential amino acids including methionine and cystine. Lentils provide one of the least expensive protein sources to many people around the world.

Their iron content is another great nutritional quality. One serving contains 60% of the daily iron recommendation. The iron is in the form of non-heme iron, which is also not an issue because the majority of lentil dishes are made with lemon, or some form of citric acid, which converts non-heme iron to heme making it completely available to the human body.

The plant, itself, is feisty and durable so it grows easily and abundantly throughout the world. My favorite legume ranges from red to yellow to green to brown and even black. The lens-shape (for which they’re named) makes lentils one of the most versatile legumes in our kitchen. They do not require pre-soaking and easily cook in twenty minutes.

I have about a hundred recipes that involve lentils, but my favorite is this lentil soup recipe:

Lentil Soup with Spicy Yogurt Topping

2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 Lg onions, finely chopped
4 Celery stalks, sliced
2 Small jalepeno peppers, minced
1 Medium potato, cubed
5 Mushrooms, sliced
1 Lemon, juiced
4 Cups veggie broth (about 3 3/4 is best)
2.5 Cups brown lentils
2 Tsp ground cumin
2-4 Tsp salt
1 Tsp oregano
1/4 Tsp pepper
2 Bay leaves

Using a large stock pot saute celery and onion adding kosher salt four about a minute. Then
add the jalepeno and mushrooms last. Add the lentils and saute for about a minute.

Add water to broth to make 8 cups total. Add to pot along with cubed potatoes, lemon
juice, cumin, salt, pepper, oregano, bay leaves.

Stir to blend ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low to simmer for 45 minutes

When potatoes and lentils are tender, blend with blend stick until consistency is met

Spicy Yogurt Topping

8 oz plain soy yogurt
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1/8 tsp salt

Combine ingredients and refrigerate

Nutritional Info:
Kcals: 288
Fat: 6g
CHO: 43g
Protein: 17g