Thoughts For Food

Insights into the Mind of a Culinary School Student

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Smoothies: Why You Should Drink More

We all know that smoothies are delicious and good for you, but why pay a lot for them when you can make your own? Not only is it fun, but you get a lot of added health benefits as well.

One obvious benefit to smoothies is Fiber, which is essential in cleaning out your insides and keeping you about as regular as Old Faithful. Drinking fruit smoothies can help you reach the recommended daily intake of fiber, which is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. One serving of fruit typically contains two to four grams of fiber with blackberries, pears and apples having the highest concentration of five to seven grams per serving. The soluble fiber found in fruit helps slow digestion and may help control blood sugar and lower cholesterol.

Essential Vitamins and Minerals are another reason that smoothies are good. Vitamin C helps your immune system and synthesizes collagen that aids in the framework of your body. Potassium supports your heart function and helps maintain a normal blood pressure, while folate promotes healthy cells. In addition, particular antioxidants in fruit decrease inflammation, while phytonutrients help fight off disease. Beta Carotene and Magnesium round out the laundry list of healthy essentials that are found in perfect smoothie fodder.

Fruits that are perfect for the smoothie treatment are:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Tangerines
  • Grapefruit
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes
  • Mangoes
  • Kiwi
  • Bananas
  • Pineapple
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honey Dew

Besides the fruit, however, it’s also important to have a base on which to build the smoothie. This can include anything; milk, juice, water, and even yogurt. Personally, I use Orange Juice, Greek Yogurt (Chobani) and a little ice just to chill the drink down. This is especially refreshing in the Summer, and if made right, one smoothie could last you all morning. The sky’s the limit. So get wild, go make your own and let me know what you think!


Food Bites: Coffee

So I think it’s time I confessed something to you, dear readers: I didn’t touch a cup of coffee until I was almost 2/3rds way done with my college career. Many of my friends have been drinking coffee since high school, but here I am, a late coffee bloomer, I suppose. Regardless, I am HOOKED. Any chance I get, I’ll get a cup for myself. This recent coffee swing prompted my parents to warn me of the dangers of coffee such as headaches, stunted growth, etc. Well the joke’s on them! Recent studies have shown that coffee may actually be good for you. Crazy talk? Lies? Neither. It’s actually scientific truth.

I first heard of these positive coffee reports in my Nutrition class here at the CIA. Albeit in passing, my professor did mention a growing study of the supposed health benefits of coffee. According to this new research, coffee drinkers now have a whole host of health benefits. Decreased risk of dementia, Type-2 Diabetes, Parkinson’s, certain types of cancers, heart problems and even strokes.

Now that’s an impressive list if I’ve ever seen one. However, there is a catch (isn’t there always one?). As promising as this research is, there is no SOLID proof that coffee can do all this as of yet. Scientists have found out clues as to how your morning cup o’ joe can help your overall health and that much is a step in the right direction.

As far as Diabetes is concerned, studies have shown that people who drink 1 – 2 cups of coffee per day, do experience a 7% decrease in risk of getting Diabetes (Type-2). What is the source for this somewhat miraculous occurrence, you ask? The antioxidants present in the coffee itself. Coffee also contains minerals such as magnesium and chromium, which help the body use the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar (glucose). In type 2 diabetes, the body loses its ability to use insulin and regulate blood sugar effectively.

Because it lowers the risk for Diabetes, coffee can also lower the risk for heart problems and even strokes, by an astounding 20% according to recent studies. The caffeine in coffee can also counteract Parkinson’s, though how exactly it accomplishes this is still unknown. A Swedish-based study found that people who drink 3 – 5 cups of coffee a day over a 20 year period, were actually 65% less likely to develop dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s.

Here’s where the studies begin to get a little shaky in defending their nigh-miraculous claims. While the data that coffee can prevent certain types of cancer isn’t concrete, it is fairly consistent in its claims. Specifically it is the risk of liver cancer that is supposedly brought down by coffee, although the exact connection between the two is yet to be discovered.

So, does this mean that coffee is the go-to miracle drink of the century? Have we finally found our elixir of immortality? Not by a long shot. Coffee is just a very well-liked and popular drink that has a surprising amount of health benefits associated with it, despite the flak it gets for the amount of caffeine present in a cup of the stuff. With coffee’s growing popularity and diversity of flavors, the health benefits of this popular fuel source are sure to reach MANY people the world over. Maybe some years down the road, we will find out exactly what coffee can do to further the health of humanity. In the meantime, I’ll continue to use it as my everyday jump-starter.


Food Bites: Bourdain vs. Deen

The whole situation between Paula Deen and Anthony Bourdain, at least in the culinary world, has made quite a splash. Everywhere I go on campus these days, it’s all anyone seems to be talking about, even after a week has passed since the NYTimes article detailing this feud was published. You can check out said article here.

In the article, Op-Ed writer Frank Bruni blasted Bourdain for berating the “Belle of Comfort Food,” Paula Deen in a recent interview. Bourdain said that Paula Deen was a menace for making a nation of already obese people, even more unhealthy by showing them how to prepare fattening and unhealthy food. Bourdain went so far as to say that Paula was making it OK for Americans to eat more of the food that was already killing them. Strong words, to be sure. Paula took some shots of her own. When asked by the NY Post about Bourdain’s comments, she said that not everybody could afford to eat a $70 steak or drink a $360 glass of wine every week. She cited her and her friends as those who “cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills,” essentially highlighting Bourdain’s culinary elitism as the source for his harsh words.

So, who exactly is at fault? Who is right? Who is wrong? Answer: they both are, although one does have more of a point than the other, in my own opinion. Regardless, this argument may very well give the food industry a much needed push to better create a healthy America, and hopefully before companies that manufacture artificial limbs become members of the Fortune 500.

First, let’s look at Anthony Bourdain. Talented chef, food-writer and host of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” is no saint by any means. He has an unrivaled talent of saying exactly what he thinks about a particular dish or restaurant. He never chooses his words and always lays on the expletives when voicing his opinions. Off-putting to some, to be sure, but he is a chef after all. It’s what he’s used to and probably doesn’t want to change. And let’s face facts, what he said is completely true. America is growing day by day. Growing WIDER, that is. Obesity levels have skyrocketed in this country over recent years and it looks like they’re only getting higher. Bourdain was right in highlighting a major problem plaguing this country and equally right in pointing out one of the plausible causes, albeit in his own “eloquent” manner. Paula’s dishes aren’t the most heart-healthy foods out there. They’re Southern Comfort Food, a food group known for using as much oil as the BP Oil Spill. They most definitely are a major contributor to the rising obesity rates in the country, there is no denying that fact. Bourdain’s sharp wit is not focused solely on the supposed culinary lower class, as Paula Deen thinks. Bourdain has taken shots at other culinary big-wigs, such as Alice Waters, and even Deen’s fellow Food Network stars: Sandra Lee and the infamous Rachel Ray. You could say that Bourdain is an equal opportunity critic.

On the flip-side, is Paula Deen. The Southern Darling that has graced our TV sets since 2002 and since then, has been showing Americans how easy it is to prepare all the deep-fried Southern delights that people call Comfort Food. Let’s not debunk Paula’s talent here. She is a talented writer, as evidenced by her string of well-selling cookbooks. She is very helpful for showing the “common” American how easy it is to prepare delicious food, quickly. And she is a very nice person.She does indeed have a point for defending herself against Bourdain’s onslaught of harsh words and criticism. She is right is saying that not all Americans can afford the expensive, fine dining options that Bourdain and other food critics espouse. For many Americans, it’s simply an impossibility, so they must search for an alternative.

So, who ultimately has the better point here? Personally, I’m going to have to with Anthony Bourdain, and not just because I’m attending his alma mater. Don’t get me wrong, they both have excellent points here. However, Bourdain’s point of an increasingly obese America holds a tad bit more water. It’s a serious matter concerning all Americans, not just those “average” Americans that Paula Deen holds in her “voice of the people” status. And speaking of status, shouldn’t Paula Deen be using her status as a TV personality to spread the message of better eating, instead of sharing the fattening recipes? Many other of her fellow Food Network stars have made the same public pitch, chefs or no. Bottom line: be a part of the solution, not the problem. Instead, Paula has teamed herself up with food company Smithfield Foods, a company who is known to be in violation of laws pertaining to small farmers, animal rights and other environmental environmental violations. Good job there, Paula.

Neither Paula nor Bourdain are saints of saviors, let me make that clear. Do I agree with Bourdain in this case? Yes, because his point makes more sense to me. Not taking anything away from Deen’s point, but, I digress. This whole incident does serve one major bit of good though: it may push the issue of healthy eating into the spotlight where it needs to be. Hopefully it can get there soon. Cases of obesity in America have tripled since the early 90s and is only expected to get worse in the coming years. We’re in need of some major change and having the Queen of Comfort Food stepping back a bit, my not be such a bad idea.

Food Bites: Au Natural?

Taken from Google Image Search

There seems to be a never-ending debate going on these days. Everything is “Green” nowadays. Green movements, green cars, green programs, all in order to protect ourselves and our planet. In the food industry, this has caused a shift towards local, seasonal ingredients, as well as all organic ingredients. No preservatives, no artificial flavors, no harmful chemicals, etc. Just food the way it was meant to be enjoyed. That’s good, believe me. The seasonality movement in food is a really good thing, because it encourages healthy cooking and healthy eating. But, be forewarned, be careful what you wish for.

What do I mean? Well, I’m saying that, while there are harmful food additives out in the market these days, there are good ones as well. As my chef said last block, “It’s absolutely impossible to do EVERYTHING from scratch.” In an ever-changing industry like the food industry, you’re going to need help, no matter who you are. So, don’t shun all additives or chemicals. Just keep your eyes open!

For example, do you know what Bromated Flour is? It refers to flour that has been enriched with Potassium Bromate. It “bleaches” the flour, making it easier to work with and extremely durable once it is baked. The major problem? It’s a KNOWN Carcinogen. And here’s the kicker folks: the United States is the only remaining country who HAS NOT outlawed Bromated Flour. Sure, it’s harmful effects are neutralized once it’s cooked, but what about the people who have to work with it in its raw state? Cases of lung cancer in bakeries and/or production plants have skyrocketed in recent years. So, if you’re going to do any baking at home or work with flour in any way, keep a sharp eye on the labeling. If it says “Bromated Flour,” STAY AWAY.

In regards to the so-labeled “evil” preservatives and other food chemicals, yes, many of them are indeed harmful, but at the same time, needed to keep food longer. If we outlaw preservatives altogether, then foods can’t last as long. Again, to avoid illness within your home, keep a sharp eye out and read the labels of food items you purchase. If the ingredient list contains words that you need a dictionary and/or science textbook to decipher, then stay away. Furthermore, if the Sodium content of the package exceeds the daily allowance, then you may want to avoid it. Make sure you always drink an amount of water greater than the amount of sodium that you ingested. That way, your body will retain a good, healthy balance.

There are good manufactured food products out there, believe you me. My Baking Techniques chef actually praised Pillsbury for their Croissants and Biscuits. I’m being dead serious. As far as food and produce purveyors are concerned, it always pays to find a good, reputable source that sells high quality product. Whole Foods is a big thing on campus among chefs and students alike. It does exactly what their name implies: sell, good, wholesome and healthy food products. If there’s no Whole Foods near you, take some time to talk to the people who work at your local food purveyor. It pays to pick their minds about the food you’re buying.

Remember: know where your food comes from and above all: READ. Knowledge is a great weapon to have. Know what you put in your bodies and you’ll be better off for it.

Food Bites: De-Mystifying Salt

Hey guys! A little while ago, I wrote an article for the school newspaper about salt: how it’s bad for you and how it’s good for you. Let me know what you guys think!

De-Mystifying Salt

There is a war going on, unseen by the majority of the American public. It is a war between the FDA and the food industry, and it’s a war that has been going on since 1978. It is the war on salt. An element that is so essential for life is now under fire for its supposed role in causing strokes, kidney failure, heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure), just to name a few. With all this frightening information being published so recently, it’s understandable that people are very scared about salt and its harmful effects. However, this is where misinformation comes into play. Many people may become misinformed about salt and think that it is really bad for your health, while ignoring its key health benefits, which are many, varied and stretch back throughout human history. Armed with that knowledge, it’s time to bust some salty myths.

Sodium-Chloride (salt, of course) has had a very important role in the history of humanity, dating back thousands and thousands of years. At one point salt was worth more than gold and was highly sought after in ancient times. It was a preservative as much as it was a seasoning agent. Before the advent of refrigeration, meats and other perishables were salted to prevent them from spoiling. It would seem, however, that even with modern refrigeration technology, major food companies today are adding enough salt to their food like it was the Middle Ages again, and this has raised some red flags in the FDA.

According to the FDA and other small, independent research firms, salt has been linked to many serious health risks. It is estimated that salt contributes to at least 100,000 high blood pressure-related deaths a year. The FDA report goes on to say that because salt is considered a safe food ingredient and that peoples’ palates have become so accustomed to high amounts of salt, people no longer know what is a safe amount of salt. A fact made all the more dangerous with certain processed foods having double and even triple the recommended amount of salt for a human, and with processed foods making up 75-percent of the sodium we consume, it seems that we are quite literally eating ourselves to death each and every day. Despite all this, however, companies are hesitant on lowering the levels of salt in their food products. Why? As Michael Moss writes in the NY Times: “…they crave salt as a low-cost way to create tastes and textures. Doing without it risks losing customers and replacing it with more expensive ingredients risks losing profits.” Consumers, as well as companies, are to blame. A 1979 internal memo from snack company Frito-Lay states: “Once a preference is acquired, most people do not change it, but simply obey it.” So who’s to blame? Everyone. What’s the solution? Information.

There seems to be a growing trend in the “salt war;” misinformation. People and research companies either intentionally or unintentionally overlook the health benefits salt has, in favor of the health risks salt poses. For example, the sodium in table salt actually reacts with the potassium in human bodies to generate the electricity that drives the central nervous system. Any drop in sodium could prove disastrous to human bodies. In addition, sodium is key in holding water in the body, keeping the body hydrated longer (a key bit of information when you are stranded at sea). Most importantly, “salt makes food taste like itself,” as TV personality Alton Brown has said. Without salt, many foods we enjoy today just wouldn’t taste the same, and what do companies do to cover for the lack of salt? Increase the amount of sugar. Finally, health risks such as hypertension are often hereditary. In short, if you have a family history of hypertension, lay off the excessively salty foods. These facts seem to be swept under the proverbial rug every time the salt debate comes up. The best answer for all the salt-based health questions is moderation. If people just monitor what they eat and make sure that they drink more water than they consume salty foods, then they’ll be a-ok.

Moderation and good information are key to debunking the myths and scare tactics that arise in this war on salt. Take them to heart and we may very well get out of this war with our health, and food, intact.