Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Dream

I have a dream....that one day I will have a restaurant that is ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT GLUTEN-FREE. Not "vegan and also has gluten-free", not "gluten-free but we cannot guarantee there is not cross-contamination", not "let me go ask the chef", not "you can have grilled chicken with no sauce", not "what is gluten??".

This restaurant will be a SANCTUARY full of tastey, satisfying food that has NO possibility of being contaminated. It will have EVERYTHING! All the food that I know and love and can eat only under the right conditions. I'd like the menu to look somewhat as follows:

Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Truffle Oil and Bread-crumb Crust
Crockpot Chili-Vegetarian or Beef- served with Cornbread and Honey-Butter
Chicken Tortilla Soup
BBQ Hamburger or Turkey Burger with Bacon, Avocado, and served with Fries.
Sweet Potato Fries
Warm Spinach and Bacon Salad in Balsamic Vinaigrette
Jamaican Jerk Shrimp served with Rice, Mango Salsa, and Fried Plantains
Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Roja, Pinto Beans, and Sweet Corn Tamales

Strawberry Shortcake: fresh berries and creme fraiche on a buttermilk scone
Molten Chocolate Cake served with coffee and vanilla icecream and caramel drizzle
Apple Crisp: topped with golden brown sugar and oatmeal crumble, scoop of vanillabean icecream
Fried Banana Wontons: in a flakey pastry with caramel, cinnamon-sugar sprinkle, and vanillabean icecream

These are just a few that come to mind. Recipes will be made as healthy as possible using fresh and whole foods. And despite how it looks they will be 100% gluten-free. And taste sooooo good that even my brothers won't know they're gluten-free! Celiacs will come from all over the country to ENJOY FOOD again without ANY STRESS. This is my dream. And then maybe one day I won't be hungry.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Globalization you can taste

It's common knowledge these days that "globalization" is the trend we've been recently experiencing that has interconnected all parts of the world like never before- technologically, economically, culturally, and politically. The jury is still out on whether this is a positive or negative phenomenon, which is largely irrelevant because globalization continues to be the name of the game. Economist Thomas Friedman sites globalization's power as taking off in the 1990's, but in reality movement of people and their food was happening long before we coined it "globalization".

For example, pasta is largely considered an Italian food, but the first evidence of the noodle dates back to 2000 B.C. in China. It is thought that Marco Polo introduced Chinese noodles to Italy in the 13th century, and that ravioli is a derivative of Chinese wontons. Coffee was introduced to India from Ethiopia, and made its way to Europe before being brought to Java or Latin America. Also, ctirus fruits were non-existent in Spain and the Middle East until they were traded through North Africa from India in the 14th century.

A current example of edible globalization is the widespread trade of low-cost vegetable oils such as corn and soy which are now available to the developing world. The beauty of this "flattening" of the world is the "fattening" of the world, as poorer countries can now consume fats in amounts equal to those of richer countries. Likewise, Walmarts and regional immitators around the globe place processed, packaged, ready-to-eat foods in even the most rural areas. Indeed, overweight and obesity rates in Mexico, China, India, and the Phillipines are rising to meet those of the U.S., as the global trade of foods continues at an ever-increasing rate.

                                                                                           "The World is Fat", Barry Popkin. 2009

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Keeping the Pipes Clean: it's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it!

Fiber (aka ruffage, or as my mom calls it, "cardboard") is a component of food that, although not actually a nutrient, bears equal weight as vitamins and minerals in the promotion of health...especially for preventing colon cancer and heart disease. Americans under-consume fiber so much that just 13g more per day across the nation would reduce the colorectal cancer rate by 31%.

Our bodies actually do not derive energy from fiber; it is any material in plants for which we lack the enzymes to digest (but other animals such as cows successfully get energy from fiber such as grass). The not-so-pretty reality is that fiber is an essential fuel for the bacteria residing in our colons. It's a natural and necessary partnership that we have with these little guys, and they do a lot of work that they don't get enough credit for (and get wiped out when people "cleanse" their colons). Resident bacteria are able to use fiber for food, promoting their proliferation. Here's why we want them to succeed:

1) the good bacteria scavenge our intestines for toxins and carry the toxins out when they exit our better end, 2) their colonization prevents pathogenic microbes from taking hold and causing illness, such as E. coli or salmonella, 3) certain bacteria inhibit growth of tumor cells, 4) their eating habits (fermentation) produces an acidic environment that prevents our good bile from being converted to cancer-causing secondary bile acids, 5) Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria prevents the conversion of pro-carcinogens to actual carcinogens 6) they produce fatty acids which serve as fuel for new colon cells, denying toxins or carcinogens the chance to take root. Basically, they do a lot of good work in there, which is why we should feed them.

You'll see fiber in two forms- soluble and insoluble -under the category "dietary fiber" on your food labels. Both are functional and necessary, and a good balance of the two keeps things moving. Together they provide many benefits:
       -Fibers increase our feeling of fullness so can help in controlling hunger and weightloss. 
       -They slow down digestion of a meal, which leads to a more controlled release of nutrients for more
         stable blood sugar levels.
       -Fiber acts like a sponge, sopping up fats and cholesterol in its path and reducing their presence in the
         bloodstream (read: heart and artery health, and lower LDL levels). This property is also why it is
         essential, though, to drink enough water to keep high-fiber foods from clogging the pipes.

As you can see, consuming higher amounts of fiber benefits not only our downstairs tenants, but many other aspects of bodily health. The current daily recommendation is 25g for women and 38g for men. But I don't advocate an increase in fiber supplements, which are usually nutrient deficient. Instead you can find fiber in the following DELICIOUS foods, and many others:

Raw:                                                                        Cooked:
Blueberries - 3.5 g per cup                                       Beans - 11-19 g per cup
Pears - 5.1 g each                                                  Oranges - 3.4 g each   
Almonds - 3.3g per ounce                                        Broccoli - 5.1g per cup
Raisin bran - 5.0 g per cup                                       Brown rice - 3.5 g per cup
                                                                             Oats - 5.7 g per cup
So do your part for colon and heart health - and appreciate all the dirty work that gets done while you go about your day - by incorporating more fiber into YOUR diet!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh so sweet

The amount of fat consumed by Americans has decreased by about 10% over the past 50 years... from 42% of total calories in the 1960s to 33% of total calories today. The rate of obesity in the US has tripled - increased by 300% - in that same time period....

It appears that other factors are the major contributors to our nation's struggle with overweight. And it is really a global epidemic...as I have posted before there are now more overweight people in the world than starving people, and the rapid rise in obesity is no longer reserved just for wealthy nations. India, China, Russia, the Phillipines, and Mexico are now seeing an increase in obesity and overweight. My current read "The World is Fat" is a fascinating examination of these global trends by researcher/professor Barry Popkin. While describing how agricultural efficiencies + sedentary lives + manufactured foods + human genes for preventing starvation = a recipe for disaster, Popkin makes a bold claim. He argues that caloric beverages are the largest contributor to obesity worldwide. Drinking our calories is a relatively recent phenomenon - for the first 200,000 years of our species' existance the only liquids we consumed were water and breast milk. About two thousand years B.C. we find records of milk, wine, beer, and juice being consumed. And then in the past one-thousand years is where we see an explosion of caloric beverages: coffee and tea (with milk and sugar), liquor, juice concentrates, soda pop, and "energy" drinks. Popkin theorizes that our human genetics have not yet adapted to these new consumption habits: they were designed for the hunter-gatherer's survival when food was more scarce, and are no match for our appetites in this world of plenty.

Several recent research studies have demonstrated that intake of beverages does not off-set food intake. If we drink a 200-calorie soft drink at a meal, we do not eat 200 calories LESS of food. Drinks are additional calories on top of the calories we eat based on our hunger cues, and our appetites do not compensate for them. The liquids may give us a short-lived feeling of fullness from the expanding of our stomachs, but it then empties much quicker than for solid foods and so we feel hungry very shortly. Other times sweetened beverages actually increase our appetite for food: think of how the sweetness of coke drives us to eat more salty french fries (which the food industry takes full advantage of).

Pensive if this phenomenon, I converted the grams of sugar to teaspoons in the 6 common beverages pictured below for a presentation in school. The amount per serving of 8 ounces was listed on the label of each bottle, but every single one of these contained atleast 2 servings. In our over-sized American minds we feel good about "getting more" for our money and then consume the entire portion available to us, rather than rationing it out to make it last twice as long. The following are the amounts of sugar in the entire bottle of each product:

Sunkist orange soda: 18 tsp sugar
Coca Cola: 14 tsp sugar
Red Bull: 11 tsp sugar
Snapple: 10 tsp sugar                   
Starbucks Frappuccino: 9.5 tsp sugar        
Vitamin Water: 5 tsp sugar

For each beverage, the first ingredient listed is water, and the second ingredient is some form of sugar (cane sugar, crystalline fructose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, maltodextrin): they are literally sugar-water. I ask you all: would you find it appetizing to pour one of those cups of solid sugar into your mouth? Probably not. When dissolved in water, the caloric part -the sugar- is hidden, and our brain is partially tricked, although it does register that pleasant sweet taste which we instinctively enjoy. With beverages we also do not benefit from the mouth-feel of the amount of calories consumed as we would with a muffin or a candy bar (both full of sugar), which is a significant way that our body gauges the energy we have taken in.

Caloric beverages can be very useful for periods of prolonged physical activity in which energy stores need to be replenished more frequently to sustain that exertion. In these cases solid food is less efficient than liquid calories: the sugar is the simplest form of energy that our body can use immediately for energy without needing to do much digestion, and it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. Protein, fat, and more complex carbs spend more time in our digestive tract while enyzmes break them down and then need to be converted by our liver into glucose (the only molecule that our body can use to get energy!). So pure glucose is fantastic for athletes and mountain-climbers, but not so appropriate for those of us who barely manage to get to the gym a couple times a week.

Even so, it has become increasingly common world-wide for a person to have a latte with breakfast, a lemonade at lunch, a coke or red bull mid-afternoon for a pick-me-up, and a beer or glass of wine with dinner. These add up to a lot of extra calories that the world consumes every day, in a time when extra calories are more and more unnecessary. I think Popkin has drawn some very insightful conclusions from his breadth of research, and I would highly recommend the read. I know that this knowledge has changed the way I look at a soda or latte or glass of juice...just picture all those heaping teaspoons of pure, sweet sugar.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Step 1...

step 1: Eat Food
step 2: Eat Enough Food
step 3: Eat Good Food
step 4: Eat Better Food

It used to be that step 1 was a challenge for me; I would often forego eating as the best coping mechanism I had for the stress involved in adjusting to my new restrictive diet. Right now I'd say I'm somewhere between steps 2 and 3... realizing what it is to consume enough calories to support me taking a yoga class, spending 6 hours in lecture, or working an entire serving shift without feeling starving, faint, or nauseous. Believe it or not I had gotten so used to ignoring my hunger signals that I had forgotten what food's function was in my body: to nourish me! It feels empowering to plan a hearty, nutritious meal specifically because I want to be able to hold that back bend or hand-stand and not feel like my muscles are going to collapse. As much as our society focuses on everything we shouldn't eat, we often miss the point that food is what keeps our bodies alive...nearly every mineral, vitamin, protein, and fat molecule involved in the actions of our cells and organs HAVE to be consumed from the food we eat! That brings me to the difference between step 3 and step 4, since the quality of the food we eat can have monumental effects on how we feel. Not only do excess fat and refined, nutrient-empty foods slow us down, make us heavy (literally and figuratively), and cause a state of disease in our bodies, a diverse diet rich in all of the nutrients that we need is energizing, invigorating, and enlightening. With each nutritious meal I make for myself, as the stress of preparing them is diminishing, I feel my body connecting the dots inside and just working more effortlessly.

Viewing food in this progressive step-wise fashion, rather than in absolutes, reminds me that eating habits are on a continuum of "goodness" based on what the goal is to be achieved. A year ago the idea of jumping from step 1 to step 4 was debilitating...if others would advise me to eat very "healthy" meals I was overwhelmed rather than motivated. Similarly, expecting oneself to eat a PERFECT, nutritious diet, always!, is not constructive...it is in the small choices and steps that movement is achieved, and that the benefits of eating "good" food, or "better" food can be felt. And of course, we can't expect any of that if we don't eat "enough" food to give our body the energy to make these choices. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

As Seen on TV

I recently read a very interesting research study that analyzes the American diet as it is portrayed on TV. The study argues that food advertisements offer a "set of dietary endorsements" which "encourage viewers to eat the foods promoted for sale". Given that the average American household watches over 6 hours of TV each day, and all Americans together view 250 billion hours anually, I can agree with the authors that food advertising has to have a significant impact on the foods people desire and choose to eat. Working in a restaurant, I know very well how just the sight or smell of food can entice the guest's appetite and help us sell our dishes. 

The researchers of this study watched 84 hours of prime-time television (in 2004) on the major networks that 99% of Americans have access to. They recorded all of the foods advertised by sponsors and commericals in their suggested portion sizes, then tallied the nutrient results.

If a person ate a standard 2,000 calorie diet composed of ONLY these advertised items, the researchers found that person would consume: 25 times more sugar, 20 times more fat, and 1.5 times more protein than recommended daily servings, as well as less that half the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. The amount of sodium and cholesterol consumed would be off the charts, and daily vitamin needs not even close to met.

Really no surprise when you think about it...what do food commercials consist of? Domino's and Pizza Hut deals for family-size pasta dishes with free sides of cheese bread or cinnamon rolls...energy drinks...sugary cereals...manufactured diet products...water with no calories or nutrients but plenty of artificial ingredients...perhaps a more wholesome Ralph's grocery commercial thrown in now and then. But sitting down and noticing how much space these nutrient-empty foods occupy in the world of food sales is incredible...I mean, have you ever seen a commercial for asparagus? Food manufacturing is a HUGE business...I've often thought about this when walking through a grocery store and noticing that the majority of aisles are dedicated to foods that come in boxes and bags. We tend not to think of grocery shopping as a bombardment of advertisements, but really the food there is a PRODUCT to be SOLD.

For better or for worse, the influence of prepared and manufactured food products must be acknowledged. The researchers argue that "the pattern of nutritional imbalance found in advertised foods mimics the pattern of imbalance in the common American diet". The study observed zero public service announcements for balanced meals or fruits and veggies during these PRIME-TIME hours, although they do exist in other slots. They also included Saturday morning cartoon hours in their data, to capture the nutritional value of the foods children are influenced to desire...and in turn ask their parents to purchase.

"Nutritional Imbalance Endorsed by Televised Food Advertisements." Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2010.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some things in life don't get to take a vacation

The past week I have been vacationing with my family at a beach house in Laguna Beach, which is an absolutely enjoyable get-away even though it is only 20 minutes from the house I grew up in. The town, the beach, the whole environment is not new to me, but what is new is that this is my first family vacation with celiac disease. Any travels with friends over the past two years felt manageable...I guess because it was just me and one other person. And I do dine out with my family about once a month just to get together and catch up, but I don't mind going-without at that sporadic frequency. Eating with my family for two to three meals a day, five to seven days in a row is a much different experience.

The discussion of what sounds good to eat, the excess of choices available to everyone but me, the appetite-inducing conversation that occurs around every meal, and the communal sharing of appetizers and tasting of each others' plates really wore down the defense mechanisms that I routinely put in place so that I am not constantly disappointed by my eating experience.

What this week made me realize is how valuable it has been to figure out my diet on my own, without the need to plan seperate or modified meals for a group of people as would be the case if I lived in a family household. I can figure out what I have an appetite for, prepare it without worries of cross-contamination, and eat it without feeling envious of what others are enjoying. Like I said to my family to try to depict how I was feeling, normally I can get excited about a simple bowl of cereal and be completely satisfied from eating it. That kind of mentality is not so easy to maintain when there's an entire table full of delicious-looking-and-smelling, untouchable food right in front of me. For better or for worse, this vacation reminded me how this part of my life continues to challenge me in new situations no matter how well I think I have been coping.