The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eating on the Run

Yesterday, as I was driving my son to an activity in the morning, I counted three people in cars scarfing down food. Mind you, I wasn't looking into every vehicle whizzing by, I just happened to glance inside a few cars and noticed this trend. I'm sure had I peeked inside every truck cab or behind every steering wheel I might have seen many, many more people gulping down their breakfast sandwiches. But with safety in mind, I kept my eyes (mostly) glued to the road before me.

I have to ask...are people so rushed they need to eat on the run? Is it so difficult to eat a bowl of cereal at home before rushing out the door to work?

Here are my reasons for why we shouldn't be doing this:

1) The most obvious-hello? Not safe! If people think talking on a cell phone contributes to accidents...have you ever tried balancing a greasy hash brown and egg muffin sandwich on the lap while maneuvering through traffic? How about when the hot ketchup-coated pickle falls off the burger onto a white skirt? Ouch! Double jeopardy. Obviously, you're using one hand to hold the food, the other to steer, and desperately trying to keep grease from ruining your tie. How safe can that be? I just gotta ask.

2) The food can't be healthy. Face it, when you're hungry, you'll grab anything, calories be damned! And fast food isn't exactly well-know for its healthy food, no matter how hard the companies try to promote the salads and "lite" fare. Besides, no one I know has lettuce with their coffee.

3) People should sit down and eat with their families. I know, I know. Some people don't have families, for one thing, and even if they do, the members often wake up at various times, and some are hungry right away while others don't want anything until much later. But I'm putting this out there anyways: if you can make eating together a priority, it will make a difference in your family's life. No matter what, you do your children no favors forgoing breakfast at home. Breakfast helps give the brain a jump-start. Be a good model! Show them you need it, too.

So if I passed you this morning stuffing a breakfast burrito down your throat..and you know who you are...I apologize for entreating on your private moment. But know I'm on to you.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Is HFCS a menace or a scapegoat?

I've been poring over article after article, and still have not discovered sufficient evidence to support the theory that high fructose corn syrup is to blame for America's obesity problem.

Let me begin by explaining the recent study performed at Princeton University. The article: "High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels," written by Miriam E. Bocarsly, Elyse S. Powell, Nicole M. Avena and Bartley G. Hoebel, discusses the study's findings, supported by a grant from the US Public Health Service.

The theory was based on the finding that between 1970 and 1990, consumption of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) went up over 100%. This is, in part, because it's relatively inexpensive to produce, therefore it's cost effective for companies. It also helps baked goods have a longer shelf life. Because obesity has risen during that same time period, some scientists believe there is a direct correlation between the weight gain and the increased use of HFCS. Therefore, why the study was conducted.

In this study, used laboratory rats for both short term (male rats-2 month term) testing, and long term (male and female rats-6-7 month term). The results: after two months, the male rats fed HFCS gained "significantly more weight" than the ones fed sucrose, although they consumed a similar amount of rat chow. After a six-month period, the rats who'd had HFCS included in their diets also were found to have increased fats pads around their abdomens, while the control rats (the ones not fed the HFCS) did not.

Something else interesting...the rats fed both sucrose or HFCS voluntarily ate less of the rat chow, thus not increasing their calorie intake. Nature's way of preventing animal obesity! Although the animals consuming HFCS and reducing caloric intake still gained weight. Interesting, right?

Something else very interesting: the male rats gained more weight and at a more rapid weight than the females who consumed the same amount of HFCS. Although there is mention that the study was slightly different for males vs. females in that males had "ad libitum" access to chow (whenever they wanted it), while females only had 12-hour access to chow. Again, very interesting.

HFCS and sucrose have similar properties. Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is sold in two formulations. Either 42 percent fructose, or 55 percent fructose, the latter having 42 percent glucose and 3% higher saccharides (simple carbohydrates). I believe it is the 55% fructose formula that was used in the study.

Now before you go tossing out every HFCS containing item in your fridge and pantry, I want you to consider a couple of factors. First, this is only one study, and the one most highlighted in the media at this point of time. Other studies have proved inconclusive, and in every study mistakes can be made or numbers fudged. Not that I feel this is so with this particular study, but I take everything with a grain of salt. Second, these rats were on a controlled diet of HFCS. We, the consumer, are not. We have a choice of eating a muffin made with HFCS every day, or instead, once a week.

My point?

Perhaps high fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently than table sugar. I believe this to be true. Studies have indicated that fructose is absorbed further down the intestine than glucose. Because of this, the liver metabolizes most of the fructose. It is converted (and I'll spare you the scientific names and details) to what may possibly raise triglyceride levels. Again, there need to be more studies to prove all of this.

But what really needs to be said is that we Americans, land of the Supersize-Me, need to be responsible for what goes into our mouths. If you're eating more baked goods than you are vegetables and fruits, drinking more soda than you are water (or tea), and munching on Doritos at your desk everyday, you're going to increase your waistline, whether or not anything you consume has HFCS. That is, unless you have a thyroid problem, or some other situation where you can not gain weight. But for the majority of us...we consume everything placed in front of us at a restaurant even though we know that plate has enough calories for at least two meals. (Another reason why waistlines have increased since 1970. (Please read this article for a study on restaurant portions: http://www.nature.com/oby/journal/v12/n3/full/oby200464a.html)

So I feel blaming high fructose corn syrup for America's obesity woes is harsh. Yes, too many foods have high fructose corn syrup in them. But they do enhance the flavor of the product, and we can keep the item longer in a pantry...a must for those of us who prefer to grocery shop every two weeks. There is a place for such a product. But the products it's in shouldn't take the place of fresh greens and sweet fruit. But then again, neither should consuming products made from table sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Now you know more about the study. Do your own, and decide what foods are right for you.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Recipe Ideas

I love coming up with recipes. In fact, I often don't have on hand all the ingredients needed in order to follow most recipes. I will be including my recipes on this site, most of them healthy, vegetarian fare though occasionally I may include fish or chicken.

As an amateur food detective, I've discovered great pairings where you can't go wrong. Chicken and thyme, for example. Or tomatoes and basil. Garlic works well with most foods.

But here's a discovery I recently made that I'd like to share, along with a story.

A while back, I had a family reunion to attend in Watertown, NY. My wonderful aunt chose a place for us to stay overnight, a bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Dexter. (http://www.dexter1855house.com/index.html) The proprietress welcomed us as if we were old friends staying for a visit. The home was cozy, inviting, beautiful decorated. And the food...marvelous. She served blueberry pancakes and gingerbread waffles with real whipped cream. No mixes or canned fluff! This was the real deal, homemade and delicious.

The next weekend, I craved those gingerbread waffles in the worst way. But when I went on allrecipes.com (a favorite site of mine), the gingerbread waffle recipes had a million ingredients, most of which I did not have in my pantry or refrigerator. Not to mention that measuring and mixing is too time consuming for a parent with two children in need of attention every two minutes. But the craving lingered, so I wondered if I could short-cut my way to feeding it.

Feeling clever, I purchased a gingerbread cake mix. It took me about one minute to break and egg, add water, and stir. When the waffle iron was hot, I poured the batter in, hoping this wasn't some far-fetched idea based solely on desire.

I'm here to tell you, it worked. They weren't as delicious as the ones at the Dexter 1855 house, but boy, they came in a pretty close second. And my whipped cream was Reddi-Whip, but I forgave myself for my laziness.

I'm going to try other cake mixes, now. See what else I can come up with. Sure, it's like eating cake for breakfast, but why not treat myself once in a while?

Stay tuned for other ideas and recipes.

Oh boy. After thinking about those gingerbread waffles, my mouth is watering. Good thing I froze the extras!