Hair in food gives added value

August 12, 2010

Have you ever had that awful experience where you’re munching away on a tasty bite of food only to suddenly feel something that you can’t swallow and it turns out to be a hair which you then slide nauseatingly out of your mouth?

Well what if I had to tell you that putting hair in food can actually be a lucrative venture; if not a work of art? It depends on whose hair it is of course.

Click on the link below to read more about a special  jam which recently went on show and sale at a London Art exhibition and which contained fragments of Princess Diana’s hair, combined with milk, sugar and gin!

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/07/05/ap/strange/main6647666.shtml

Food Blogs and Citizen Journalism

August 10, 2010

I’m just back from the USA where I attended the annual conference of the Society for Nutrition Education (SNE). (http://www.sne.org/)  One of the many great sessions was about nutrition education and social media and this inspired me to write a post on food-related blogs.

It seems that such blogs are among the most popular and fastest-growing in number worldwide. They are also one of the vehicles for what is known as ‘citizen journalism’.

Citizen journalism generally refers to a broad range of activities in which everyday people contribute information or commentary, particularly about news events. This type of journalism has been around since  the first mass printing and distribution of pamphlets; but with the birth of digital technologies it has become much more pervasive. People now have unprecedented access to both the tools of production and of dissemination.

Citizen journalism encompasses content ranging from user-submitted reviews on a restaurant, to comments and even news stories from readers being published in online sites of traditional news outlets. Blogs are considered as falling somewhere in-between: often offering factual information, as well as commentary or opinions.

But one important characteristic of citizen journalism is that it somehow obliges the writer to go beyond simply presenting one’s musings on a topic. The unstated remit is to develop a balanced story which will be genuinely useful to readers.

I see food-related blogs as potentially meeting this remit in different ways. Some blogs offer a steady stream of  up-to-date and comprehensive (scientific, historical,  cultural, environmental) information about a multitude of topics, or specialising in one particular topic; others regularly present very practical tips on food preparation and presentation, often accompanied with recipes and photos showing the process and/or the end-product. Some food bloggers adopt a critical approach, presenting well-argued commentaries on hot topics of the day, whilst others develop occasional short-lived blogs offering personal insights and useful guidelines, such as a travel blog related to food experiences during a particular holiday.

But enough of my musings. 🙂 Below are links to a just a few of the food blogs showcased at the SNE conference this year, as well as some blogs I visit myself when I find the time. Check these out and log in again to the Malteaser later this week for some lighter fun news from the world of food innovation.

http://www.culinariaandwellness.com/blog (by Dr Karen Mugliett – a fellow Nutrition, Family & Consumer Studies lecturer at the University of Malta)

http://nutritionmythbusters.blogspot.com/ (by University of Missouri Extension team)

http://enourishment.blogspot.com/ (by Marie – A Registered Dietitian from California)

http://nutritionnibbles.blogspot.com/ (by Sybil Herbert – A Registered Dietitian from Canada)

http://www.julienegrin.com/blog/ (by Julie Negrin – A Nutritionist from New York City)

Fish: Which is which?

July 15, 2010

As a follow-up to my post on red meat, I am attaching a list I just compiled with the names of white fish and oily fish in English and Maltese. I am often asked about which fish to eat, especially due to the recommendation to consume at least 2 portions of oily fish weekly. 

Both white and oily fish are very good sources of high quality protein (for growth and repair of body cells). White fish are low in fat, whereas oily fish are higher in fat and, consequently, also rich in Vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk for heart disease, improve our immune system, improve IQ, and may also help to relieve arthritis and certain skin problems. They are particularly useful for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding because they help a baby’s nervous system to develop.

One warning re oily fish is that they typically have  higher levels of contaminants  (e.g. mercury, dioxins and PCBs) than white fish. As a result, there is some guidance regarding the amount of oily fish that should be consumed by different population groups:

  • Girls and women who might have a baby one day, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should have a maximum of 2 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Other women, men and boys should have a maximum of 4 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Girls and women who might have a baby one day, and women who are pregnant should have a maximum of 2 portions of fresh tuna or 4 tins of tuna a week.
  • Women who are breastfeeding should have a maximum of 2 portions of fresh tuna a week. There is no upper limit on tinned tuna.
  • Eating swordfish, shark and marlin is not  recommended for boys or girls under 16, or for pregnant women or women who may become pregnant in the future.

And finally, remember that certain fish, such as tinned sardines, mackerel and salmon, can be eaten bones and all. This boosts your intake of calcium and phosphorus (promoting stronger and healthier bones).

For the bilingual list of white and oily fish click on WHITE FISH AND OILY FISH.

For more information on types of fish and the health value of fish go to this website:

http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/healthydiet/nutritionessentials/fishandshellfish/

Red meat – How much is too much?

July 13, 2010

In recent years we have been hearing a lot about the need to reduce our consumption of red meat and to avoid eating processed meats. Why is this so?

First of all, it is important to define red meat and processed meats.

1. Red meat refers to beef, pork, lamb and goat from domesticated animals, including the minced format of these.

2. Processed meat refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives. This includes meats such as ham, bacon, luncheon meat, corned beef, salami, hot dogs and some other sausages.

The health issues around meat consumption are varied:

It is well known that most red meats, processed or unprocessed, are a source of cholesterol and saturated fats. It is also well known that most processed meats are high in sodium. A regular high fat, or high cholesterol, or high sodium intake increases the risk for heart disease due to facilitating obesity, narrowing the arteries and promoting high blood pressure among others. And in many developed countries, intake of red and processed meats is high.

Currently, there is also strong evidence that red and processed meats increase the risk for colorectal (bowel) cancer.  This is because:

  • They contain a red-coloured compound called haem, which has been shown to damage the lining of the colon.
  • They stimulate production of N-nitroso compounds in the digestive system. These are cancer-causing substances due to their potential to damage DNA in cells.

An interesting research study published this May offered the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat vs. processed red meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

The results showed that, on average, each 50 gram daily serving of processed meat (about 1-2 slices of cold cuts meats or 1 hot dog) was associated with a 42% higher risk of developing heart disease and a 19% higher risk of developing diabetes. In contrast, eating unprocessed red meat was not associated with risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

One thing the researches uncovered was that unprocessed red and processed red meats (available in the United States) contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. Yet, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives. The researchers, therefore, concluded that possibly “differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.”

Of note is that animal experiments have shown that nitrate preservatives can promote artery narrowing and reduce glucose tolerance. These two effects increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So how much is too much?

Current recommendations by various health organizations are as follows:

  • If red meat is part of your diet, consume no more than 500g cooked weight (700-750g uncooked weight) per week, including both processed and unprocessed meats.
  • Avoid processed meats as much as possible.

The bottom line: Opt for fish, lean poultry and rabbit if you want to consume meat, and find alternative non-meat fillings for your daily sandwiches (e.g. low fat cheese, or home-made  bean, chick pea or lentil pastes). If you still want to include processed cold cuts of meat in your diet, choose those which are low in fat and pale pink in colour. The latter often have a lower nitrate content (nitrate is used to preserve the natural red / pink colour of meat during processing).

For more information visit

http://www.wcrf-uk.org/preventing_cancer/diet/meat_on_the_menu.php

Renata Micha, Sarah K. Wallace, Dariush Mozaffarian. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation, 2010; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.924977

‘Hobz biz-zejt’ Michigan-style

June 21, 2010

I was intrigued to come across this post about hobz biz-zejt written by somebody married to a Maltese emigrant and living in Michigan USA.

I have been given permission by Julie to link to her post. It makes interesting and fun reading. We call this cultural adaptation.

http://www.amichiganmom.com/2010/06/maltese-tuna-sandwiches.html

Yes – our hobz biz-zejt is truly delicious and can be very healthy too. See my comment in Julie’s post.

Cooking skills for children – A ‘real’ need

June 14, 2010

A while ago, Jamie Oliver (known for his school food revolution) won an Award in the USA for promoting the need for food education.  In his words, food education includes learning how to cook.

I could not agree more. Cooking skills are essential for children – teaching them how to make tasty, healthy foods quickly is teaching them a skill necessary for life. Parents and adults need to realise their role in teaching their children how to cook. So do schools. To quote Jamie: “Under the circumstances, it’s profoundly important that every single [American] child leaves school knowing how to cook 10 recipes that will save their life. Life skills.”  I strongly feel this applies to Maltese children too. And we were nearly there once….

Home Economics has been around as a school subject in Malta for decades. Thousands of students have benefitted from a Home Economics education. Healthy and economical cooking has always been integral to this school subject. Home Economics students have enjoyed cooking. Home Economics students have learnt from cooking.

BUT UP TILL THIS DAY NOT ALL MALTESE STUDENTS HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO HOME ECONOMICS IN SCHOOL.

It’s time we worked on this again in Malta. Now.

A few years ago the local education authorities committed themselves to ensuring a food and nutrition education entitlement for all students to help them towards healthier living. (see HELP document p.15 http://www.youth.gov.mt/ministry/doc/pdf/HELP_document.pdf) I agree that this is easier said then done. I also acknowledge that several initiatives are already under way. But we need to accelerate the process for the good of our children.

Take a look at the video of Jamie Oliver’s award acceptance speech. (http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html)  It is truly an eye-opener. Please see the video right till the end. Hear his final wish. Take what is applicable to you and whether you are a  mum, dad, teacher, student, school administrator or food producer help in bringing back what’s been lost: The family and the school teaching cooking skills to the younger generation.

Eat local – Eat seasonal – Eat a ‘kiwi-stick'(?)

June 5, 2010

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the importance of ‘eating local and seasonal’. The reasons focus mainly on the need to support local producers and the local economy, to reduce pollution arising from the transportation and storage of food, to try to eat produce in its freshest state possible for maximum benefit of nutrients, and to lessen the demand for processed food, resulting in less pollution from manufacturing processes and less use of preservatives, and hence less health risks for humans.

International, national and business-led campaigns with the ‘eat local’ and ‘eat seasonal’ message emerge weekly.

In Malta we have the Naturalment Malti campaign led by the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs. This campaign promotes consumption of local fruits and vegetables, as well as other locally produced foods such as honey, ricotta, rabbit and wine, among others.

An interesting campaign was launched recently by McDonalds Italy:  the ‘Mc-Italy menu’. The goal was to present consumers with a range of menu items using a variety of local ingredients. These included Italian products such as extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, artichokes, onions, bresaola (low-fat dry beef sliced thinly and eaten cold), pancetta and a 100% Italian beef patty in a locally produced bun.

A variety of salads with local produce are also sold at McDonalds Italy outlets;  but the latest trend is the ‘kiwi-stick’. This is literally a speared kiwi fruit (grown in the Agro-Pontino countryside just south of Rome) which can be eaten on-the-go as if it were an ice lollipop.

The kiwi stick is an item in the McDonalds Italy Frescallegre packages. In winter, bags of local seasonal fruit are sold. These have included, for example, apples from the northern Piedmont and peaches from Emilia Romagna. This summer, the company plans to use Sicilian oranges to make ice cream.

Yet, the ‘Mc-Italy menu’ was not met without controversy. The President of the Slow Food movement – Carlo Petrini – accepted the campaign with reservations. He asked for transparency regarding the fairness of the price paid to local farmers and artisans for the ingredients, and also queried how the sensory qualities of the Italian ingredients would be ensured in the end-product. He was also concerned with respect to the potential standardisation of these ingredients if the campaign was launched globally, thus jeopardising the true traditional Italian taste.

Across the pond, in Canada, another food company – Hellmann’s – is sponsoring a campaign promoting consumption of local Canadian food. Click on the link below to see their video which spells out clearly the rationale for eating seasonal and local.  Though our balance of imports and exports here in Malta cannot be compared, the different arguments and messages will get you thinking.

So next time you go food shopping, whilst keeping healthy eating as one of your main goals, do make that effort to check if you can buy local and seasonal, to satisfy both your nutritional needs and your appetite…and to show a bit of patriotism.

For more on the mentioned campaigns read here:

http://www.mrra.gov.mt/index.asp

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10149/1061601-28.stm#ixzz0q0XuU0nH

http://www.slowfood.com/sloweb/eng/dettaglio.lasso?cod=C2744B880501e2AE0AjlMmE90175

To see the video, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIsEG2SFOvM

Roast Spiders and Chutney

May 31, 2010

I could not help posting this limerick by Edward Lear.

I have always been fascinated  by the ‘strange’ (to me of course) foods eaten in bygone times and in other cultures. 

Spiders are not uncommon in the diets of populations around the world. Here is a link  to a website for recipes with all kinds of insects. http://www.ent.iastate.edu/misc/insectsasfood.html

You can try your hand at making Banana Worm Bread or Chocolate-Covered Grasshoppers, but do read the disclaimer on the website before proceeding.

Meanwhile – What is the weirdest food you have ever eaten?

To date, I have not had anything that strange, except perhaps cheese with a layer of ashes such as Morbier cow’s cheese from France and cheese aged in ashes such as Sottocenere al Tartufo cheese  from Italy.  It seems the use of ashes in preserving cheese is an old Venetian custom.

 Tell us your ‘strange’ food experiences….

Bring back Home Economics Education

May 21, 2010

On May 11, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association
(JAMA) published an article recommending that Home Economics (HE) Education should be brought back as a compulsory subject in US schools. 

The rationale given by the authors (Alice H. Lichtenstein and David S. Ludwig) was that the younger generations are growing up with no healthy and thrifty food and meal preparation  skills and that HE education could help overcome this deficiency and thus  help curb rising obesity figures.

The article lays emphasis on the need to teach students about the
scientific and practical aspects of food – basic cooking techniques;
caloric requirements; sources of food (from farm to fork); food shopping and budgeting principles; food safety; sourcing and using nutrient information and labels; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease.

I feel that this list of topics is typical of a classic Home Economics curriculum, though the article does say that these topics may be  taught in a cross curricular manner.

Below are the introductory and concluding sentences of the article.

“Home Economics, otherwise known as domestic education, was a fixture in secondary schools through the 1960s, at least for girls. The underlying concept was that future homemakers should be educated in the care and feeding of their families. This idea now seems quaint, but in the midst of a pediatric obesity epidemic and concerns about the poor diet quality of adolescents in  the United States, instruction in basic food preparation and meal planning skills needs to be part of any long-term solution.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1857)

“Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this  generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever  before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.” (Lichtenstein & Ludwig, 2010, p. 1858)

This article serves as further evidence of the need for a period of compulsory HE education, for both male and female students, during the formal years of schooling.

Access article here:  http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/303/18/1857

Chinese wisdom: Meals in Heaven and Hell

May 15, 2010

Eating meals together is one of  the recommendations frequently made by nutrition experts. This has various health and psychological benefits, especially for children.

Of course, how meals can be shared is another story.

Check out this tale from China about eating together in heaven and hell.

Meals in heaven and hell