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‘Eating On The Wild Side:’ A Field Guide To Nutritious Food

July 10, 2013 2:27 PM

Eating on the Wild Side
 
Eating on the Wild Side

The Missing Link to Optimum Health

by Jo Robinson and Andie Styner

We like to think that if we eat our recommended daily allowance of fruits and vegetables, we’re doing right by our bodies. Think again, says health writer Jo Robinson.

In her new bookEating on the Wild Side, Robinson argues that our prehistoric ancestors picked and gathered wild plants that were in many ways far healthier than the stuff we buy today at farmers’ markets.

But this change, she says, isn’t the result of the much-bemoaned modern, industrial food system. It has been thousands of years in the making — ever since humans first took up farming (some 12,000 years ago, more or less) and decided to “cultivate the wild plants that were the most pleasurable to eat,” she writes. More pleasurable generally meant less bitter and higher in sugar, starch or oil.

“Basically,” Robinson tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies, “we looked around at all this wild food that we had been eating for millennia, forever, and we kind of said to each other, ‘We’re getting tired of eating this bitter, chewy, fibrous, low-sugar food, and we can do better than that!'”

But over the centuries, Robinson says, those choices in human agriculture led to a dramatic loss in the nutrient value of the plants we eat most commonly — something she says we had no way of knowing until recently, when modern technology made it possible to do so.

But Robinson isn’t arguing that we should all go back to foraging for our dinner. Rather, she calls her book “a field guide to nutritious food.” Drawing on hundreds of scientific studies, she uses her book to lay out which commonly available foods offer the best nutritional bang for the bite.

We learn, for example, that longer cooking can boost tomatoes’ health benefits. And that broccoli begins to lose cancer-fighting compounds within 24 hours of harvest — that’s why it’s one of the foods that Robinson suggests people eat “as fresh as possible.”

On prehistoric bananas

“To peel them you had to get a machete or something similar to that to take off the skins, so we looked around and one of our remote ancestors came upon a mutant banana. This was nature’s mutant — nature is making mutations all the time — and that’s how we get all of the varieties that we have in our fruits and vegetables. Well, this particular mutation did away with the seeds, so that the seeds had been diminished to tiny black dots, and if you look at the bananas in our supermarket, that’s what you’ll see: no viable seeds but just these little dots.”

On her focus on ‘phytonutrients’

“These are molecular nutrients; they’re not macronutrients, and the reason that I’m focusing on them is that we’re just beginning to realize that these plant compounds — the technical name for them is ‘polyphenols’ [but] I call them ‘phytonutrients’ — they play a role in every cell and system of our bodies, and every month, new information is published showing these phytonutrients are really essential for optimum health. … [T]hese are the things we’ve reduced more than any of the other nutrients.”

On why we should eat dandelions

For 15 years, author and journalist Jo Robinson has been researching the foods we eat and the nutritional losses they've undergone over thousands of years.

For 15 years, author and journalist Jo Robinson has been researching the foods we eat and the nutritional losses they’ve undergone over thousands of years.

Frances Robinson /Little Brown and Co.

“[G]o out and find a dandelion leaf, rinse it well, and take a bite, and pay attention to your senses. For the first 10 seconds you won’t sense much at all, except you’ll notice that the leaf is hairy, and quite dense, quite chewy. Then, this bloom of bitterness [will] come at the roof of your mouth and go down your throat, and it’s going to stay there for about 10 minutes. And many of the wild plants that we used to eat had levels of bitterness similar to that dandelion. … Compared to spinach, which we consider a superfood, [a dandelion] has twice as much calcium, and three times as much vitamin A, five times more vitamins K and E, and eight times more antioxidants.”

On maximizing the nutrients in lettuce

“If you take your lettuce right from the store and rinse it and dry it and then, if you rip it into bite-sized pieces before you store it, you’re going to increase the antioxidant activity … fourfold. The next time you eat it, it’s going to have four times as many antioxidants.”

On which produce you should eat as fresh as possible

“There [are] fruits and vegetables that also burn up their antioxidants and their sugar at a really rapid rate, and they happen to be those superstars of nutrition that we’re all encouraged to eat. So I’m just going to give you a list of things you should get as fresh as possible, perhaps from a farmers’ market, which … is going to be probably fresher than from the supermarket, and eat as soon as possible. So it would be artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, parsley, mushrooms and spinach. …
I think you should have an ‘Eat Me First’ list on your refrigerator of those [foods] that you should eat the day you bring them home, or the next day. It could [make] a measurable difference in your health.””

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July 11, 2013 · 3:09 pm

Pollan Cooks!

MARK BITTMAN April 17, 2013, 9:05 pm

“The seven most famous words in the movement for good food are: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” They were written, of course, by Michael Pollan, in “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” the follow-up to “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Now Pollan might add three more words to the slogan: “And cook them.” Because the man who so cogently analyzed production and nutrition in his best-known books has tackled what he calls “the middle link in the food chain: cooking.”

But Pollan isn’t about to become a cookbook writer, at least not yet. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” out Tuesday, he offers four detailed recipes, used as examples to explore how food is transformed: for Bolognese, pork shoulder, sauerkraut and bread, each an illustration, he says, of the fundamental principles of cooking.

The recipes, while not exactly afterthoughts, are less important than his insistence that cooking itself is transformative. Almost as soon as we sit down in my living room, he says: “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.”

When you cook, you choose the ingredients: “And you’re going to use higher-quality ingredients than whoever’s making your home-meal replacement would ever use. You’re not going to use additives. So the quality of the food will automatically be better.

“You’re also not going to cook much junk. I love French fries, but how often are you going to cook them? It’s too hard and messy. But when they’re made at the industrial scale, you can have French fries three times a day. So there’s something in the very nature of home cooking that keeps us from getting into trouble.”

He points out that it isn’t just that industrially produced meal replacements are cheap; they’ve also reduced the cost of the time needed to make food and foodlike products. Some would even argue that you should be working more, outsourcing as much cooking as possible — effectively defining cooking as a waste of time for anyone making more than, say, $20 an hour.

But, says Pollan: “If we decide to outsource all our cooking to corporations, we’re going to have industrial agriculture. And the growth of local, sustainable and organic food, and farmers’ markets, is going to top out if people don’t cook. Because big buys from big, and I have little faith that corporations will ever support the kind of agriculture we want to see. That’s why the most important front in the fight to reform the food system today is in your kitchen.”

We know why people don’t cook: because the marketers of prepared food have taken over our kitchens; the Food Channel fetishization of cooking has made it look intimidating, especially for those who grew up without parents in the kitchen; and people say they don’t have the time — or they just don’t like it.

“We do find time for activities we value, like surfing the Internet or exercising,” says Pollan. “The problem is we’re not valuing cooking enough. Who do you want cooking your food, a corporation or a human being? Cooking isn’t like fixing your car or other things it makes sense to outsource. Cooking links us to nature, it links us to our bodies. It’s too important to our well-being to outsource.”

And yet Big Food has convinced most of us: “No one has to cook! We’ve got it covered.” This began 100 years ago, but it picked up steam in the ’70s, when Big Food made it seem progressive, even “feminist,” not to cook. Pollan reminded me of KFC’s brilliant ad campaign, which sold a bucket of fried chicken with the slogan “Women’s Liberation.”

“We need to complete that uncomfortable conversation about the division of domestic labor, which the food industry deftly exploited to sell us processed food,” he says. “But if we’re going to rebuild a culture of cooking, it can’t mean returning women to the kitchen. We all need to go back to the kitchen.”

How does that happen? “First, we need to bring back home ec, but a gender-neutral home ec. We need public health ad campaigns promoting home cooking as the single best thing you can do for your family’s health and well-being. A tax on prepared food, but not on raw ingredients, is another good idea. And Michelle Obama could use her bully pulpit to promote home cooking, rather than spend her considerable capital persuading food manufacturers to tweak their products.”

With an increasingly progressive population we have the potential to create a gender-agnostic cooking culture. There’s no longer a stigma attached to males cooking, and cooking is not only a democratic pleasure, it is also daily creativity, it’s economic, it’s healthy, and it’s a link to the natural world. And though it may take time, cooking can be about patience and letting things happen. Good things, on many levels.”

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April 22, 2013 · 2:02 pm

Barbie Body Would Be Pretty Odd-Looking In Real Life (INFOGRAPHIC)

The Huffington Post  |  By 

Posted: 04/12/2013 10:44 am EDT  |  Updated: 04/12/2013 10:44 am EDT

“At this point, it’s common knowledge thatBarbie’s body isn’t the most realistic. But what would it actually look like if the famous Mattel doll was a real woman? That’s what Rehabs.com set out to find out.

The search engine for locating mental health treatment centers put together an infographic using data from the 1996 study “Ken and Barbie At Life Size,” which was originally published in the academic journal Sex Roles. The graphic compares the proportions of a Barbie’s body to the body of the average American woman as well as the average model and the average anorexic woman.

Some of the numbers are quite striking. While Barbie’s head would be two inches larger than the average U.S. woman’s, her waist would be 19 inches smaller and her hips would be 11 inches smaller. Since her waist would be four inches thinner than her head, Barbie’s body wouldn’t have the room it needs to hold all of its vital organs, and her uber-skinny ankles and child-size feet would make it necessary for her to walk on all fours.

The infographic was created as part of a larger report on body hatred among young women. And although January 2013 research showed that peer influence may impact body image even more than pop culture, it’s never bad to be reminded just how unrealistic the bodies of the dolls you grew up playing with are.”

LOOK: How A Barbie Body Measures Up To Real Bodies

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April 22, 2013 · 1:58 pm

Swedish Mannequins Spark Internet Praise-A-Thon

By  – Thu, Mar 14, 2013 3:21 PM EDT

Imgur

 

“A clothing store in Sweden is being hailed by women around the world after a photo of two surprisingly curvy mannequins were photographed and posted online.

Dressed in skimpy lingerie, the mannequins displayed softer stomachs, fuller thighs and generally more realistic proportions than the traditional department store models. For comparison, most mannequins in the U.S. are between a svelte size 4 or 6—a departure from the average American woman who is a size 14. 

On Tuesday, a blogger at Women’s Rights News posted a photo of the department store mannequins to Facebook and the response was overwhelming. “It’s about time reality hit…” wrote one out of almost 2,500 commentators. “Anybody saying these mannequins encourage obesity or look unhealthy, you have a seriously warped perception of what is healthy. I guarantee the “bigger” mannequin in the front there represents a perfect BMI” wrote another. As of Thursday, the photo had garnered almost 50,000 likes and shared almost 15,000 times. That’s a lot of attention for a hunk of fiber glass and plastic. 

There were rumors that the mannequins were on display at H&M in Sweden but a spokesperson told Shine: “The image is not from an H&M store. At this time, we are not using this type of mannequin, but we do not rule of the possibility of doing so in the future.” 

Mannequins have been around for thousands of years but their function in fashion is fairly recent, first appearing in store windows in the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution when window panes were installed in stores to display the latest fashion trends. Throughout WW1 and the Depression, mannequins changed their outfits and body proportions to reflect society at that time. Cut to the 1960s, when British mannequin firm Rootstein began modeling their dolls after pop culture and fashion icons to reflect runway trends at the time. 

Modern-day mannequins have long been critiqued for having tiny proportions. In 2007, British health officials demanded that stores on London’s fashionable High Street stop using stick-thin models in an effort to reflect the wide range of sizes and shapes of British women. In 2010, Club Monaco came under fire for featuring mannequins with protruding spines and clavicles. And in 2011,GAP was chastised by bloggers for mannequins with bone-thin legs modeling the “Always skinny” jeans display. “I’m wondering what the internal project name for this was at Gap HQ,” wrote one blogger. “Death-camp chic’? ‘Ana Pride’? ‘Famine fashion forward?”

And male mannequins haven’t escaped scrutiny either. In 2010, Rootstein debuted male dolls under their “Young and Restless” collection modeled after teenage boys with 35-inch chests and 27-inch waists. The company had to defend its decision to use smaller models to eating disorders groups. 

As much as the public contests these down-sized mannequins, when designers have attempted to create dolls that reflect real-life proportions they’re met with criticism, even disgust. In late 2012, when a Reddit user posted a photo of an “obese mannequin” in satire, commentary ranged from “Ew, fat people”, “It’s embarrassing how obese America is” and the amusing, “He’s not fat, just big foamed.” 

A recent published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that women’s self esteem takes a nosedive when exposed to models of any size, so maybe there is no easy answer. But as long as mannequins are influencing people to buy fashion, reflecting real-life bodies is a step in the right direction.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:11 pm

Cash Back On Broccoli: Health Insurers Nudge Shoppers To Be Well

by ALLISON AUBREY

March 19, 2013 4:43 PM
A shopper at a branch of South African retailer Pick n Pay in Johannesburg. Health insurer Discovery offers rebates on health food at the chain to its members who enroll in a health promotion program.

A shopper at a branch of South African retailer Pick n Pay in Johannesburg. Health insurer Discovery offers rebates on health food at the chain to its members who enroll in a health promotion program.

SIPHIWE SIBEKO/Reuters /Landov

 

“At $2.50 a pound, broccoli may seem too expensive. But cut the price by 25 percent, and our thinking about whether we should buy it may change.

study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concludes that rebates on healthy food purchases lead to significant changes in what people put in their grocery carts.

It was actually South Africa’s largest insurer, Discovery, in partnership with Vitality Group, that decided to offer 10 percent and 25 percent cash-back rebates to members of its health promotion program on fruits, vegetables, non-fat dairy and other healthful foods at one supermarket chain. (To get the 25 percent rebate, members had to fill out a questionnaire.)

Researchers at the RAND Corporation then looked at their spending on these foods and found that they increased 9.3 percent (calculated as a ratio of spending on healthy food to total food spending) with the 25 percent rebate. A 10 percent rebate nudged people to buy healthier stuff, too, just a little less — a 6 percent increase.

“People did react fairly strong,” says Roland Sturm of RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif., the study’s lead author. Even the smaller rebate was “enough to change behavior.”

The analysis looked at the purchases of more than 170,000 households, 60 percent of which were eligible for the rebate.

In the U.S., Wal-Mart and a company called HumanaVitality are now testing a similar healthful food incentives pilot program. Members of HumanaVitality, a partnership between the Vitality Group (owned by Discovery) and health insurer Humana, save 5 percent when they buy foods with the Great For You label at Wal-Mart.

But is a 5 percent rebate, or discount, enough to motivate people to change their shopping patterns? It’s not clear. HumanaVitality will find out when they analyze the results in September.

Derek Yach of the Vitality Group acknowledges that a 10 percent rebate would be better than 5 percent. As my colleague Dan Charles has reported, Yach, a former PepsiCo vice president, and Vitality Group, are at the forefront of this movement to try to incentivize wellness.

But Yach says the findings of the RAND study suggest that diets can be shifted. And this, he believes, has huge implications for public policy.

Some two-thirds of healthcare spending is linked to lifestyle diseases such as obesity, Type-2 diabetes that can be prevented or controlled by healthier diets and lifestyle. So the insurers sponsoring these incentive programs are hoping they’ll help curb future healthcare costs.

While the study is among the first to evaluate a large rebate program, it’s important to look at what shoppers did with the cash they got back. Did they use the 25 percent savings on broccoli to buy doughnuts? Nope — they increased their spending on healthy foods.

But incentive programs have also been known to fall flat. As we’ve reported, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that subsidizing healthy food led to the unintended consequence of people spending more on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods. This was a small study that took place in a simulated market setting, not a real grocery store.

But this new study shows that over the long-term, it may be possible to nudge people towards wellness by consistently making healthy food cheaper.”

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March 22, 2013 · 8:01 pm

5 Dr. Oz Prescriptions Zero Out Of 10 Doctors Would Recommend

Melissa Sullivan

“Frank Dietl, 76, is suing Mehmet Oz, or Dr. Oz of The Dr. Oz Show, over an insomnia treatment. Dietl alleges that the home remedy treatment gave him “third degree burns on [his] feet and [that he] was confined to his bed for weeks,” according to Dietl’s attorney, Dominick Gullo.

The Dr. Oz Show’s April 17, 2012 episode told viewers to put uncooked rice in the toes of a pair of socks, warm them in a microwave oven, and slip them on for an extended period of time. Oz explained, “You do this and lie for about 20 minutes with those socks in bed. The heat will divert blood to your feet.”

The cardiothoracic surgeon did make a point of mentioning to not get the socks too hot in the microwave.

Oz has been criticized in the past for various remedies for his viewers.  Here is a list of five of his craziest recommendations:

1. Green coffee beans for weight loss

According to Forbes, Oz once said of green beans, “this little bean has scientists saying they have found a magic weight loss cure for every body type!” This accusation was concluded from a scientific study with a total of 16 people.

2. Human growth hormones (HG) can “supercharge your body”

Dr. Oz said that HGH is “fundamentally important to us staying youthful and vital” and can make you feel decades younger.

3. There are “troubling” levels of arsenic in many juices

According to one Dr. Oz episode, there are dangerous levels of arsenic in juices.  However, the Food and Drug Administration has since claimed that the arsenic in juices, such as apple juice, is of the “harmless kind” and “inorganic.”

4. Psychics can help people communicate with dead family members

Oz has been known to promote alternative forms of medicine and has hosted Dr. Joe Mercola, “pioneer in alternative medicine,” who claims that he can really talk to the dead and help people converse with deceased loved ones.

5. Reparative therapy can cure homosexuality

An episode that aired on November 28, 2012 explored the topic of “reparative therapy” that allegedly cures homosexuality. This drew significant criticism, and after the episode he posted on his blog that he wanted to get “both sides” of the divisive therapy.

Picture Credit: Flickr

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March 22, 2013 · 6:46 pm