Thursday, February 28, 2013

Michael Pollan and the Mediterranean Diet: Your Great-Grandmother in One Afternoon

Once again, real-food guru Michael Pollan looks like a genius. A prophet. A modern-day messiah of food wisdom.

 "Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," he famously warned in his 2007 classic The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.
"Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants." he added in bestselling tomes In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifestoand Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

There it was again in boldest possible headlines this week: living, breathing proof that we'll be healthier and live longer by heeding Mr. Pollan's wise, simple words.  

In Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke, the New York Times trumpeted:
"About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found."
"The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s Web site on Monday, were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue."
Scientific testing behind these seeming incredible claims is solid:
"Researchers tracked 7,447 patients, all of whom were considered at risk for heart disease before the study began. Participants were divided into three groups, two of which ate a food central to the Mediterranean diet. One was given 30 grams of nuts a day, while the other was given a liter of olive oil a week. The third group was instructed to follow a typical Western low-fat diet.
"After tracking patients for an average of five years each, scientists found that those who were consuming either the nuts or the olive oil had about a 30 percent lower chance of experiencing a negative cardiac outcome than those instructed in a low-fat diet." 
Food choices allowed under the moniker of Mediterranean Diet were easily findable, real foods that would be recognizable to your great-grandmother:

  • Three servings of fruit daily
  • Two servings of vegetables daily
  • Fish three times weekly
  • White meat instead of red
  • Beans, peas, lentils three times weekly
  • Snacks of nuts between meals
  • Up to seven glasses of wine weekly
  • Use olive oil liberally, preferably four tablespoons daily
  • Minimize: dairy and processed meats (industrial food products)
  • Avoid: industrially-baked cookies, cakes, pies, pastries (industrial food products)
  • Eliminate: soft drinks  (industrial food products)
Ignore the fat content of all foods, as did your grandparents and great-grandparents. 

Food Safety News observes"...scientists are still unsure of why these foods seem to reduce the risk of heart disease.".    One author of the study speculated, "Perhaps there is a synergy among the nutrient-rich foods included in the Mediterranean diet that fosters favorable changes in intermediate pathways of cardiometabolic risk."

This isn't hard to do. Nutritionists have been telling us for years about the power of eating real foods, and urging us to bypass the addictive, radically unhealthy industrial food-like products intentionally adulterated with salt, sugar, and cheap fats. 

 Truth is... Michael Pollan told us in plain and simple terms. My advice? Buy yourself a copy of Pollan''s short, quick-reading book Food Rules: An Eater's Manual.

One relaxing afternoon of reading will infuse you with a  lifetime of new understanding of how to eat deliciously to avoid a shortened life.  Eating in the same pre-industrial-food way as did our great-grandparents, ancestors, and ancient forebearers. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Fruit Gleaning Group Battles Fake Foods, Hunger, Waste in Los Angeles

For those hankering for smile-worthy news in the battle against the fraud and bad-health folly of U.S. industrial foods... 

Here's delightful news about a nearly all-volunteer non-profit that works quite effectively (and joyously!) to eliminate fake food dependence so common at organizations serving the hungry, including pantries, kitchens, shelters, and food banks.

Food Forward, a Los Angeles-based effort, was started in 2009 by local photographer, writer Rick Nahmias because he grew "tired of seeing wasted fruit from my neighbors trees littering the yards and sidewalks of my neighborhood, and frustrated with the knowledge that in the last year alone food pantries across the nation have seen an over forty-percent up tick."

Wrote founder Mr. Nahmias in 2009:
"I started this as a neighborhood project with zero experience. I'd get on my bike, and when I'd see someone with a tree, I'd stop and talk to them, saying something along the lines of, 'Hi, we're Food Forward, this is what we do...Would you be interested in letting us empty your tree and get a charitable tax deduction in the bargain?'
After a pick, each harvesting between 300-600 pounds of fruit in just a few hours, we drop the fruit at our main receiving partner: SOVA Food Pantry, a non-sectarian project of Los Angeles Jewish Family Services based in Van Nuys which services upwards of 7,700 clients a month at its three LA area locations. In a short three months, we've harvested over 10,000 lbs of fruit - all of it going to the hungry in our city."
Food Forward's mission is "to simultaneously alleviate urban hunger while fostering community interaction at a local level. In a nutshell,... a growing corps of Angelenos venture out weekly to glean people's excess fruit and donate 100% of it to local food pantries." 

The ebullient group regards itself as an emissary of "Fruitanthropy: the picking, donating, or distributing of fruit for humanitarian purposes." 

Organizations that serve the hungry usually stock only non-perishable canned and boxed goods, mostly donated industrial food products.  Fresh, perishable fruits and vegetables, which are rarely donated to pantries, kitchen, and food banks, must be quickly distributed before spoilage sets in.  

Amazingly, Food Forward has gleaned and distributed, free of charge, 1,275,756 pounds of fresh, real foods in merely four years. And every last orange, avocado, grapefruit, and all other food was proffered free for the picking by the property owners.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

U.S. Pork, Beef Laced with Drug Banned in Europe, China, Russia

American beef, pork, and turkeys are now considered sub-standard in more than 100 countries because the U.S. government allows meat processors to add ractopamine, a growth-hormone drug, into feed for cattle, pigs, and turkeys bound for food sales. 

Last week, Russia joined the ranks of countries greatly restricting (or entirely banning) U.S. beef and pork imports as too tainted with drugs for human health.

Just imagine... the home-grown meat we eat in the United States is thought too dangerous for Russian consumption. Russia warned the USDA two months ago, but drug-laced U.S. meat continued.  Sergei Dankvert, Russian chief of food safety, then announced and informed the USDA that...

"Since the violations continue and we are finding ractopamine in meat shipments from the U.S., we plan starting February 11 to impose restrictions on the import of this product."  
What Is Ractopamine?  
Ractopamine is/was....

A drug fed in the final weeks before slaughter to "improve the rate at which the animals convert feed to lean muscle" rather than fat. Since industrial factory-farmed animals are usually excessively fat due to lack of exercise, ractopamine is used to generate more lean meat.

Manufactured by a division of Eli Lilly and CompanyElanco. Lilly is a massive, U.S.-based pharmaceutical corporation with 2011 global sales of $24.3 billion. Other Eli Lilly products include Prozac, Methadone, and Cialis.  (Since 2000, the Eli Lilly PAC has given more than $10 million to U.S. politicians: about 60% to Republicans, 40% to Democrats.)

Classified as harmful to human health by the European Union, China, Russia, Taiwan, and 97 other countries.  As a result, ractopamine use is banned in these countries and regions. (Click here for list of Adverse effects of ractopamine.)

Approved in 1999 by the USDA "based solely on research data provided by Elanco, the drug's manufacturer."  Further, 
"...a detailed evaluation of the study by European food safety officials in 2009 revealed that 'Only one human study was used in the safety assessment by Elanco, and among the six healthy young men who participated, one was removed because his heart began racing and pounding abnormally.'" (Sources -  Huffington Post article by Andrew Gunther, and NBC Business News article, Dispute over drug in feed limiting US meat exports)
Claimed by the USDA to be "safe" for human consumption when ractopamine residue remaining in meat is below certain limits set by the USDA, a level considered unacceptably high by the EU, China, Russia, and the United Nations body for global food-safety.

However,  Food Safety News reports, "The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service does very limited testing for the drug..." 

In 2010, the U.S. tested for ractopamine residue in none of the 22 billion pounds of pork produced.  Only 712 samples were tested from 26 billion pounds of beef produced in 2010. Per NBC News, results of these tests were not publicly released. 

Harmful to the health of pigs and other animals. NBC News reported in early 2012:
"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 resulted in more reports of sickened or dead pigs than any other livestock drug on the market, an investigation of Food and Drug Administration records shows...
"Ractopamine leaves animals' bodies quickly, with pig studies showing about 85 percent excreted within a day. But low levels of residues can still be detected in animals more than a week after they've consumed the drug... 
"When Elanco studied the drug in pigs for its effectiveness, it reported that 'no adverse effects were observed for any treatments.' But within a few years of... approval, the company received hundreds of reports of sickened pigs from farmers and veterinarians..." 
NBC News noted that Elanco received a 2002 warning letter from the FDA (part of U.S. Health and Human Services, unlike the USDA):

Monday, February 11, 2013

To Vegan or Not to Vegan for Lent? Dared by a Daring Friend

Lin, a health-savvy friend, has challenged me to go vegan, as she is, for Lent. 

My husband and I are already near-vegetarian, and rarely eat red meat. Frankly, our vegetarian habits are motivated more by health and taste than by ethical or global warming concerns.

Veganism is defined by Doris Lin, another avid vegan friend and Guide to Animal Rights:
"Vegans eat plant-based foods, such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and nuts. While vegans have a wide variety of foods to choose from, the diet may seem very restrictive to those who are used to an omnivorous diet...
"'You just eat salad?” is a common comment from non-vegans, but a vegan diet can include a wide variety of Italian pastas, Indian curries, Chinese stir-fries, Tex-Mex burritos, and even 'meat' loaf made from textured vegetable protein or beans. Many meat and dairy analogs are also now available, including sausages, burgers, hot dogs, 'chicken' nuggets, milk, cheese and ice cream, all made without animal products. Vegan meals can also be rather simple and humble, such as a lentil soup or yes, even a big, raw vegetable salad."
The vegan quandary for me is that  "Veganism... requires abstention from all animal products, such as meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey..."  A vegan diet is often described as non-dairy vegetarianism. 

Here's the problem:  We like dairy and eggs. A lot. Especially cheeses. Soft cheeses, hard cheeses, exotic and unique cheeses. Better versions of  everyday cheeses as Swiss, Jack, and Provolone. Also, I start each and every single morning with Trader Joe's Honey Greek yogurt. And the cupboard feels bare to me without a dozen eggs in the refrig.... eggs that we use in easily a week. 

Vegetarianism isn't much of a challenge anymore for this two-person home. But veganism? That's a whole other kettle of pseudo-fish... Lin, Lin, you're asking for a lot. 

My think-outside-the-box friend cites her reasons for dabbling in a vegan diet as:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to Find Real Olive Oil, Not Fake Olive Oil

"What can I do to purchase true olive oil," reader Kgosi Johnson recently asked me. It's a question I hear often. 

It's also a reasonable question, given that between 50% and 80% of extra virgin olive oil in U.S. grocery markets is not really extra virgin.  In fact, much of the olive oil sold to Americans isn't even produced from olives... and is purposely mislabelled.

Mr. Johnson was responding to my post, The Great Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Scam in America, in which I explained:
"... the USDA is fully aware of this ongoing fraud, yet has failed for years to notify the public and has done precious little to deter the great olive oil hoax... 
"... the U.S. retail market for olive oil is largely unregulated, thereby allowing European olive growers to freely dump their crummiest-quality crops in the U.S., usually in fancy, high-priced bottles with impressive labels to attract naive buyers.... 
"U.S... standards are minimal, enforcement is non-existent, and consumers are willing to pay huge prices for what they mistakenly assume is a high-quality product." 
(To learn more about the prevalence of fake olive oils in the U.S., read  details at  The Great Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Scam in America.)
The simple answer is that the California Olive Oil Council ("COOC") is the only North American organization that officially tests, evaluates, then publicly certifies olive oils for compliance with international and the USDA's new standards for extra-virgin olive oils: 

The New York Times reported in California’s Olive Oils Challenge Europe’s in late 2011:
"In the absence of federally certified extra virgin, the California Olive Oil Council, a trade group, has created a similar certification process for oils in the state, with special labels granted to those that pass. The council has been helped by the Olive Center, a research facility that opened in 2008 at the University of California, Davis.
"Last year, the Olive Center released a surprising study, based on laboratory and sensory testing, that found that 69 percent of imported extra-virgin olive oils — including big brands like Bertolli, Filippo Berio and Carapelli — bought off the shelves of California supermarkets failed to meet international standards. Most likely, the study concluded, many of them were simply not extra-virgin olive oil at all."
The COOC certified just over 200 olive oils in 2010, and more than 250 oils in 2011.  CLICK HERE for a list of  extra-virgin olive oils certified in 2012 by the California Olive Oil Council. 

U.S. olive oil is produced mainly in California, with smaller volumes coming from Arizona, Oregon, Georgia, and Texas. 

USDA Olive Oil Standards: Voluntary, Unenforced
In October 2010, the USDA issued new Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil, a revision of federal standards in effect since 1948. The new USDA standards are rigorous, and similar to both COOC and International Olive Council's standards.  

In May 2012 after miry internal debate, the USDA finally issued its Grading Manual for Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil.... a 31-page technical manual for inspectors "to give background information and guidelines to assist in the uniform application and interpretation of U.S. grade standards, other similar specifications, and special procedures."  (Whatever the heck that bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo might mean... )  USDA olive oil testing will take place at its Blakely, Georgia lab

But here's the biggest gaping glitch: USDA olive oil standards are purely voluntary, and apparently intended as standards to be enforced by other "State and Federal agencies if these products are mislabeled." 

The International Olive Council is a 23-member intergovernmental organization based in Spain, that promotes olive oil around the world by tracking production, defining quality standards, and monitoring authenticity. The United States is not a member of the IOC. The 23 member-governments enforce IOC standards for olive oil sold in their countries.  

How Can You Find Real Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?
How can you find real, bona fide extra-virgin olive oil, and ferret out the fraud of fake olive oils?

To Mr. Johnson and all who have asked, the only suggestion I can find in 2013 is to either:
  • Buy one of the olive oils certified as extra-virgin by the California Olive Oil Council, or
  • Know your grower and his farming ethics and practices.  

Personally, I enjoy Bari Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil  as an add-on through my CSA produce provider. Bari is included in the COOC's 2012 extra-virgin certification list, and has also been certified as organic. 

Websites for olive oil producers on the COOC certification list provide locations or details where you can buy their products.

One thing I never do anymore: buy olive oils off the grocery shelf without first doing a lot of research and homework.   As Chris Kimball, founder of the respected America's Test Kitchen, noted on his radio broadcast, buying olive oil in grocery stores is "a complete crapshoot."