Friday, March 28, 2008

Allison's a Celiac. Thaw Out the Steak!

My token hot bald friend, Allison, is coming to dinner. She also happens to be my token Celiac friend. Anyone who knows what Celiac Disease is, knows it is a colossal pain in the ass and can wreak havoc on the intestines as well as the general day to day life of the person afflicted with it. Basically, she cannot eat gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, oats, and rye....and therefore just about every other processed food on the planet, even including things like envelope glue. The affected person's immune system reacts in attack against a portion of the intestines when gluten is ingested. In light of this, I try to provide her with edible menu options while also leaving stamp licking for my other guests.

Seeing as gluten is in such a large percentage of general menu items, it is easiest to prepare foods for her from whole foods using as few ingredients as possible. Now, while she never gets to pig out on pizzas and pasta (that's what everyone else will be stuck with), she does get choice cuts of meat, fish, cheese, and vibrant fruits and vegetables. Really, I don't want this to sound like one of those Beneful ads on television where you are drooling over the dish of tasty meaty chunks then get confused and embarrassed when they put the dish on the floor for the dog, it looks that good. Anyway, since my house has been meat free for awhile now, I went to dig in the freezer to find some relics of our former diet. I found a lovely London Broil cut steak for young Allison, but now it needed to be thawed. I know how to do this due to the genius that is sanitation certification class, but trust me, not many other people actually do it correctly.

We'll start with freezing, most directly with a little freezer maintenance. Make sure that the temperature is at 0 (zero) degrees Fahrenheit keep any bacteria or mold from growing. This seems to be a common problem, especially with apartment dwellers. If there is an item that has a funky smell or a crystalline blanket if ice, chuck that out, it is not worth the energy it is going to take for you to cook it to deem it too nasty or freezer burnt and then throw it away anyway. There should be no suspect odors coming from your freezer or items in it.

If you need to be freezing things to save them for later rather than buying small quantities to use fresh (My choice!), then avoid freezer burnt items by eliminating as much air as possible. This means either using a freezer-lock bag system or covering the item with heavy duty foil, then placing inside a freezer bag, pushing the air out. Unlike the TSA, I don't liken plastic bags to Kevlar, so you should not as well. If what you put it in there was a bomb of bacteria or meat after its date to begin with, that is going to be the same bomb when you get it out.

Now you are planning on eating an item from the freezer that needs to be thawed. Unfortunately this requires a little bit of planning, because just as it took a long time to freeze your tasty food, it takes much more time to thaw it. You want to check your refrigerator to make sure it is operating at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, then make some space on a low shelf for your item. It should be left in it's packaging and placed in a container that could catch any potential drainage on that bottom shelf. You should expect to leave said item overnight. The general rule is applying to things like turkeys is 24 hours for every five pounds. So Allison's two pound steak got the overnight treatment.

If you recall your mother leaving items out on the counter to thaw and then cooking them up for your tasty dinner, I hate to say it, but that would be a bad bad choice on her part, and here's why. When food sits out, bacteria can play all over it, loving the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and multiplying copiously. That makes for a tasty old plate of food poisoning for din dins. You should never leave food out on the counter, that's just common sense, but especially no longer than 2 hours. Any bacteria that was present before you froze the food will be ready to go when the temperature rises, trust me. therefore, using the item promptly is important. Ground meat and poultry should be used within a day and whole red meats within three to five days. The longer you wait, the more quality will be lost.

There are other thawing options such as cold water thawing and thawing via the microwave. They require much more care and use of food more quickly. Water thawing can open the item to bacterial damage if the packaging is not waterproof and can also water log the item as well. And microwaving can produce an uneven thaw and even cook parts of the item being thawed. Depending on the quality of the item, these can really not give you the same effect as time and refrigeration. All in all, you have multiple options to get the job done. Happy thawing!

*Continued good luck to the CUWRFC! Don't forget the green beans and never fake it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No, Peeps Are NOT Food. Now Carry On.

I know, it's fun to taunt your local dietitian about whether marshmallow Peeps are actually food. Do a google search to obtain their ingredients if genuinely want to know, but my answer will be the same as if you ask me if McDonald's or Twinkies are food, an emphatic "No."

~ beth
No, I would never feed the Meer Brothers Peeps! there are dried cod treats shoved in the back of them. Joyous Easter Peep Carnage!

Feeling Small And Helpless? Read This.

I am finding it hard to generally function on a daily basis (not because I am staring down this ineffectual R.D. exam), but instead because I feel like the choices I am making are not impacting the world, or more specifically, the environment. I'm in no way a dirty hippie, but I grew up on a nonworking farm where we did not waste water or food or electricity, where we grew a majority of what we ate, and we composted and recycled. Now I live in the city where people lap the block in their cars for status in a city with a subway, there is a litter of water and other bottles on each corner, and chicken bones regularly crunch under your feet if you don't look down when you walk down my block. A stark comparison, yes, but it does at least make me feel like I should be doing more to make up for it. This, of course, makes me want give a wake up call to everyone around me, but apparently American society at large does not care so much.

So here's is a topic from an organic nutrition standpoint that the average person might want to check out and ultimately the to help make a dent. You cannot live without it...

Water! Yes, we all know we need water to live, but if any of you heard any statistics this past March 22, aka World Water Day, you might tighten up that two shower a day policy, turn the water off when brushing your teeth, and generally stop watering/washing everything in sight. One of the biggest consumer impacts you could make would be to stop buying so much bottled water. The other day I was picking up some necessities at my local Tarjay and the woman in front of me in line was going on and on about how the case of "baby" water bottles she was purchasing was the cutest thing she'd ever seen. Really? That's the capstone? She's right, those bottles are probably way cuter than all those African kids with the swollen malnutrition bellies and flies on their faces who have no water at all. Well played, Tarjay lady. Yes, I did see her loading her plastic shrine into an SUV five minutes later, but I digress.

Here are some facts about her precious bottled water: "A person can live weeks without food, but only days without water. A person needs 4 to 5 gallons of water per day to survive. The average American individual uses 100 to 176 gallons of water at home each day, and the average African family uses about 5 gallons of water each day." Yes, we concede the body needs water, but does it need that mountain of plastic that seems to go along with it? Due to our addiction to bottled water, 38 billion bottles a year end up in landfills. I guess they're not so cute when they're empty, huh? Get a reusable bottle and find something other than the fact that your water came from Fiji to get psyched about already. And just because you have access does not mean you should abuse it, and in that vein, that you always will have access. Take the minute and a half to figure out how much you're using, then make an active decision to use less.

Another huge consumer impact is made when you choose not to purchase meat. Fast food companies and meat lobbyists pay billions of dollars a year to keep y'all yearning for meat, but frankly, it shouldn't be what's always for dinner. Digestive purposes aside, the fact that it takes the farmed animal industry approximately 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat and only 25 pounds to produce one pound of wheat is a hard one to stomach. You don't even have to think animals are cute or that they feel pain or have feelings to wrap your brain around that one. That means you could in theory, eat one pound of meat or have a year's worth of showers. And then if you push one step further and take into account that it averages approximately 13 pounds of wheat or grain to produce one pound of edible beef (not bone), your mind might explode. I know what I'd pick...a lot less meat in my diet.

Even if you cannot give up meat completely, you certainly can choose to eat less of it, just think how logically thirst-quenching it could be. That would be way more water you could drink from your tap instead of from a plastic bottle. Because if you are still going to choose to eat anything it is going to have to be farmed on land not filled with plastic bottles... See, this is how all the dots can be connected and I can make myself feel once again as though my personal choices have an impact, as would everyone else's. Enough for now, my high horse and I are thirsty.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I Heart DanActive. Here's Why...

Let's face it, dietitians tend to believe that food-based nutrients can be as genuinely supplemental to health as most medications. So when this wave of "Let's poop!" dairy-based yogurt-like probiotic products came out, they needed to be taken least by us. At the end of the day, who doesn't want to clean themselves out? Waste equals weight. Previously we had acidophilus capsules, aloe vera, and a few bales of broccoli to do the job, but now once a day incorporating a small serving of these products instead? I had to try it, so I could at least answer the basic questions that one out of three people who know what my degree is in are going to ask.

Before we get into the gut to gut comparisons, some background information. What are probiotics? To short word this one, probiotics are bacteria that can help maintain the balance of the intestinal tract. As mentioned earlier, the most well known bacteria is Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in yogurt. These different strains of bacteria can be introduced in the diet to regulate the gut and make it more functional. While they may help in aid to a host of digestive issues, they can also cause allergic reactions and other side effects, so they should be monitored while in use.

I chose the three most commercial products to try: Activia, DanActive, and Yo-Plus. I judged them initially on texture and taste, followed by other aspects of convenience cross-referenced with their actual merit on improving my digestion. Their websites all show extensive scientific testing, etc., but frankly, if it tastes nasty, it's useless to me.

First, I tried Activia. Frankly, they were the frontrunners with their overly catchy theme music (Think "Hot Pockets" or "By Menon."), their aggressive "challenge" advertisements and using Jamie Lee Curtis as a spokesperson which makes me think of the some of her better work, etc....snowball effect, I'm trying it first. Sadly, it was fairly less than homogenized and gloppy and I did not even make it through the 4-pack of containers, let alone the challenge time... Icky. It did nothing for my taste buds (horrible fake sugar taste) or my digestion, although I would not have ingested as much as as was stated (two weeks) it would take to see a difference. This product was also panned by Andrew "The Yogurt Lover" at breakfast. If that kid won't eat it, trust me, there's something wrong with it. Sorry, Activia, you lose, even with your challenge rebate of freeness.

Second, I tried DanActive. They boast to have "more than 10 billion live cultures per bottle, including Dannon's exclusive L. casei Immunitas(TM)." Now why wouldn't I want that? Exclusive, trade-marked bacteria? Sign me up! The other thing I liked about this product is that it is a drink, kind of like a slightly fruity double shot of live bacteria. There is no spoon required. Pesky, time-consuming spooning is a such a plague with modern foods. And the container tossed easily in my recycling bucket; It gets major points for the convenience and green aspects. It also came in 8-packs which insured I would have enough to last a full week (one per day). But did it work? Why, yes it did! And only after two days, holy regulation, Batman! This is a product I would recommend, clearly. However, when I stopped using it, my digestive system lapsed back to its former sluggishness in about a week. It claims many aids to immunity, which frankly sound delightful, but in reality you are going to see basic changes just by cleaning out your intestines. Any time you rid yourself of toxins, you have a win-win situation.

Lastly, I tried Yo-Plus. Even though I already had an active love with DanActive, it seemed my local grocery was not ready for the run on it and one day I found myself without, and there was no way I was going to gag back any Activia. Yoplait had long been my favourite yogurt until their recent ad campaign featuring annoying women debating what kind of good the yogurt actually was (I broke my mute buttons on these hags.), so I felt it merited a taste test. It is the most like yogurt of the three, but it definitely has the shortest shelf life. One of the containers in the 4-pack was already molding by the time I got it out to eat. Some aggressive bacteria, indeed, although more likely a commentary on the ghetto quality of my local Fine Fare. This product tasted the most like a smooth creamy yogurt, so it got points there. And even denying the one moldy bit, it was easy to stick to three days of it, although no dent was made in my digestion. Then when I returned to get more, it was nowhere to be found. Back to DanActive.

So, in the great spirit of consumerism and choice, I would have to say that DanActive does make good on my digestion. I would recommend it only to healthy adults without medical conditions, of course, and each person's gut is, of course, different, as are their taste buds, so choose accordingly.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New 3 Train Cat Blog from Moi

So...we have gotten a little lazy here in Foodland. I even stole that last sentence from two posts ago, that's how lazy it's gotten. It's all that time spent studying...or better yet, avoiding nutrition related topics altogether in a last ditch procrastinatory effort to do Lord knows what instead. So instead we will get to delve into the microcosm of NY public transit explored on 3 Train Cat. It's completely different, but still fiendishly written.