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August 1: Favorite Sites Friday

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Here’s another interesting mix of food-related websites and blogs for your reading entertainment. #FavoriteSitesFriday

  1. Gardening Know How: After gardening hobbyist Heather Rhoades noticed a lack of friendly, non-intimidating, gardening-related places on the internet to find information, she started Gardening Know How. Her content covers everything from houseplants to composting, and more.
  2. IzHealth.com: A general health-related website, IzHealth.com provides knowledge about fitness, diseases, nutrition, conditions, symptoms, and health-related news to help you develop a lifestyle that keeps healthy, both physically and mentally.
  3. Veggie Gardening Tips: Through trial and error, Pennsylvania native, Kenny Point, earned his green thumb. Veggie Gardening Tips is where Kenny shares his “lessons learned” to help gardeners of any level. His blog features organic techniques, info herbs and edible flowers, gardening videos, and seed starting techniques just to name a few topics.
  4. Tiny Farm Blog: This is a straightforward organic micro-farming site that gives you an inside look of the day to day happenings.
  5. Wellness Today: As an affiliate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Wellness Today is an online resource for healthy living and all things wellness. It brings together the most valuable health and wellness content from around the web.

Be sure to share your food-related site with us, we’d love to feature it in our next Favorite Sites Friday post. Leave us your URL in the comments area or shoot us a tweet @foodem.

Sneaky Processed Foods

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Processed foods remain in the spotlight for being detrimental to our health and our diets. People use the term “processed foods” very casually and broadly, but let’s narrow it down and get to the nitty-gritty.

Oftentimes, microwavable dinners such as chicken nuggets or frozen pizza come to mind when thinking about processed foods. In all actuality, processing a food item means altering it before it’s sold. Even washing it is considered “processing”.

When you hear about processed food being unhealthy, you are hearing about highly processed foods. There are many different kinds of highly processed foods, and the methods of processing differ for each.

Typically, processing becomes unhealthy when a component or components of a food containing nutrients is removed. This is often done to increase shelf life. In order to compensate for the lost nutrition, a handful of vitamins and minerals are often added back to the food. Sometimes this does not happen until FDA steps in and requires it.

Now we’re going to focus our attention on processed flour, which is one of the most commonly used ingredients. If you’d like information on some other foods, check out these articles on processed meats and peanut butter.

Processed Wheat Flour

First, let’s explain flour and wheat. Flour is made as a result of ground kernels or berries of the wheat plant. The kernel consists of three parts; the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. You can find a great diagram here. It is important to note that the bran and the germ contain most of the protein and nutrients, while the endosperm is mostly carbohydrates.

It is very possible to make flour from the entire wheat kernel. This kind of flour is known as whole wheat flour and is by far the most nutritious and beneficial. However, whole wheat flour has a much shorter shelf life. Most manufacturers separate the bran and germ from the endosperm in order to increase the shelf life of flour. The bran and germ are then sold separately to consumers or as livestock feed.

After the removal of the bran and germ, various vitamins and minerals are ground up with the endosperm to make up for the lost nutrients. The endosperm-nutrient mix is then bleached in order to remove color and to ensure the signature white look of most store-bought wheat products.

The result is Enriched Wheat Flour.

The Mis-lead

The word “enriched” is rather misleading. Nutrients are added to the flour, so it is technically enriched. However, nutrients are only added after naturally existing nutrients have been removed or altered. Wheat germ and wheat bran contain all those added nutrients and many more. So, “enriched flour” is far less nutritious than whole wheat flour.

Watch out for labeling. Manufacturers often attempt to trick people into thinking they are getting whole wheat with phrases such as “made with 100% wheat”. In this case, just remember that enriched wheat is still the predominant ingredient. Check out this article on seeing through the clever disguises of enriched wheat flour.

Always remember to check the ingredients list – the more colorful and appealing the package, the more likely it has something to hide!

(Photo Courtesy: Shita via Izhealth.com)

Guest Post: The Dangers of Food Deserts

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Many people living in low-income urban neighborhoods find it hard to maintain a well-balanced diet because they lack access to healthy foods. The term “food desert” has been coined to describe areas that have no local access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutritious foods. Since residents of food deserts often have limited transportation options, they frequently resort to buying unhealthy fast food or snacks from local convenience stores.

According to the USDA, food deserts represent a serious public health issue because they are linked to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. The USDA estimates that 23.5 million Americans live in urban locations that are more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (or more than 10 miles from a grocery store in the case of rural areas). More than half of these people are low-income.

Several socio-economic factors contribute to the existence of food deserts. In addition to being prevalent in low-income areas, they are more commonly found in communities of color. The CDC reports that many scientific studies suggest that living in a food desert has a negative impact on health, but additional research is needed to determine if access to fruits, vegetable and other healthy foods would change consumer’s habits in food desert areas. Some studies have shown that making healthier foods available does not stop food desert residents from making unhealthy food choices.

Part of the solution to food deserts is changing perceptions about food. In order to promote healthy, sustainable and affordable food, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has instituted Food Day. This nationwide grassroots campaign, which builds throughout the year and culminates on October 24, encourages Americans to cut back on sugary, fatty and salty packaged foods and factory-farmed meats. In addition to seeking to reduce hunger and support sustainable and organic farming, Food Day aims to convince people to choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains and sustainably raised proteins instead of unhealthy snacks and fast food.

The Food Day movement is supported by more than 100 national partners, including the American Public Health Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Humane Society of the United States, the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation and the National Parent Teacher Association. These and other partners contribute time, funds and energy in support of Food Day activities. The advisory board for Food Day is comprised of many of the nation’s most prominent advocates for healthy and sustainable food. Its diverse membership includes U.S. senators and representatives, mayors, chefs, authors, CEOs, public health officials and celebrities.

One of the advisory board members Dr. David Kessler was invited to speak at George Washington University in conjunction with Food Day 2013. Dr. Kessler is a pediatrician, former FDA Commissioner and author of the bestselling book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Dr. Kessler pointed to the transformation of public perception about tobacco as the greatest public health success in recent history; once regarded as cool and glamorous, smoking is now universally viewed as a deadly and addictive habit. Dr. Kessler would like to see the same thing happen with unhealthy food. Expecting the government to impose regulations on food products is only half the battle — the biggest challenge is bringing about cultural and behavioral transformation. By promoting greater awareness through movements like Food Day, Dr. Kessler and other public health proponents hope we can begin to make the cultural shift to healthy food.

About the Author:

Logan Harper is the community manager for MPH@GW, the online master in public health program from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. Follow MPH@GW on Facebook and Twitter for news and updates on all things public health.

(Photo Courtesy: Neil  E. Das)

Are the Foods You Eat Putting You In Danger?

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Spices. Nuts. Fruits. Veggies. What do all of these food items have in common? One might think healthy benefits or essential vitamins. They certainly fit into what most of us would consider the “healthy” category. But what you might not realize is that each of these foods contains toxic elements and, if prepared incorrectly, could cause serious health issues.

Nutmeg

This spice is used in several recipes, especially Indian cuisine. It’s also a spice that brings to mind the holiday season. But beware! In significant doses, nutmeg is a powerful hallucinogen that can cause convulsions, nausea, and sometimes death.

Nuts (Cashews, Almonds, and Peanuts)

These three kinds of “nuts” in particular (fun fact: cashews and almonds are seeds and peanuts are legumes) can pose health risks. Cashews contain the same chemical as poison ivy in their raw state; however, “raw” cashews sold in stores have been cooked just enough to eliminate this chemical. Similarly, a high concentration of cyanide is found in raw almonds. Peanuts are not only a common and deadly allergen, but they also are susceptible to mold and contain a chemical that may cause kidney stones.

Apples

When you eat an apple, avoid eating the seeds. They contain cyanide. Plus, they are not very tasty.

Potatoes

Look out for green spots and sprouts! These features indicate that a potato might contain a higher level of solanine, which is bad news. Solanine is the same chemical found in deadly nightshade. In high quantities, it can lead to delirium, stomach irritation, and headaches.

Tomatoes

Enjoy the tomato, but be sure to discard the stem. This part of the plant is full of glycoalkaloids, which cause an upset stomach and anxiety.

Rhubarb

Containing anthraquinone glycosides and oxalic acid, a chemical compound found in bleach, metal cleaners and anti-rust products, eating Rhubarb leaves can lead to a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, nausea and vomiting, gastric pain, shock, convulsions, and even death.

Hot Peppers

The chemical that makes peppers hot is called capsaicin, and it is so strong that it is used in paint stripping solutions and pepper spray. Too much of this spicy stuff can cause real damage.

It is rather amazing how a food can be so beneficial, while also posing potential health risks. Although there is no need to give up your favorite food items, you must make sure to prepare them properly and avoid the toxic parts.

(Photo Courtesy: OpenClips)

(Resources 1, 2)

Nourishing Mondays: Meatless Philly

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A few of you may be disappointed after reading the title of this recipe. Yes, I know. There is nothing in the world like a traditional Philly cheese steak, but sometimes the meatless version can be just as tasty. Don’t knock it until you try it.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup vegetarian steak sauce
1 block tempeh, very thinly sliced (or substitute with 2 large portobello mushrooms)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
8 slices provolone cheese
Mayonnaise (optional)
Fresh chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish (optional)
Fresh sub rolls

Directions:

Into a large bowl, add the steak sauce and tempeh. Using tongs or your hands, toss well to ensure the tempeh is evenly coated. Cover, and chill for several hours to allow the tempeh to absorb the flavor of the steak sauce.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, peppers and onions, and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.

Drain the marinated tempeh, and then add it to the pan with the peppers and onions.

Continue to sauté for 5 minutes or until the tempeh is heated through.

Right before taking the pan off the heat, lay the slices of cheese evenly over the top of the vegetable-tempeh mixture, allowing the cheese to melt.

Spread each sub roll with mayonnaise, and divide the cheese steak mixture among the rolls.

Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, and serve warm.

Serves 4

(Photo Courtesy/Resource)

Sustainable Saturdays: Support Family Farms

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The tranquil, serene image that likely comes to mind when picturing a farm is becoming increasingly rare.  Family farms can be defined as farms in which a family owns all of the land, carries out the daily labor and decision-making, and receive the majority of the economic profits.

They vary in size and style, but they all have two factors in common: environmental and economic sustainability.  Eating sustainably and locally produced foods comes at a cost – the cost is supporting those family farms.

Family Farms Are Beneficial?

The food produced by a family farm will always be fresh, nutritious, and of high quality. You can be sure that the produce is local and seasonal, which makes for delicious fruits and vegetables.

Family farms are beneficial to their local communities because of the job opportunities they provide to local workers. Furthermore, they support other local businesses by soliciting them for supplies and machinery to maintain their farms.

Also, family farms protect the environment. Because they use sustainable methods that minimize environmental destruction and pollution, the land continues to be viable. Growing multiple types of plants in one area also promotes a healthy ecosystem.

Difficulties Family Farms Face

Large-scale, industrial agriculture is tough to compete with. Many family farms are forced out of business by these agriculture giants. As a result of this, the environment is damaged further and becomes unusable, inhibiting any future sustainable use.

The career of a farmer has seen a decline in popularity among younger generations, although small farms and gardening have seen resurgence in the past few years. Currently, only 6% of farmers in the US are under age thirty-five.

Support Family Farms?

Visit farmer’s markets in your area. These markets often feature produce being sold by the farmers themselves and/or their family members, and you can usually get a better deal than what your local grocery store offers.

You should also research family farms that offer pick-your-own opportunities. Fruit never tastes more refreshing than when you have just picked a bucket yourself.

By supporting these farmers, you allow them to continue their livelihood and encourage others to follow suit.

(Photo Courtesy: JamesDeMers)

(Additional Sources 1, 2, 3)

July 25: Favorite Sites Friday

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Here’s another interesting mix of food-related websites and blogs for your reading entertainment. #FavoriteSitesFriday

  1. The Year In Food: If food porn is your thing, check out this blog. It features original recipes and images created by Kimberley, a food photographer and food blogger. The Year In Food charts the course of the year through creative cooking and eating with a focus on seasonal produce.
  2. Farmer Bloggers: This site was a unique find. Farmerbloggers.com is a niche blog, created for farmers by passionate farmers, and those interested in farm life. Visitors can read the stories and opinions of many different farmers and farming styles. Such topics as environment, harvest, livestock, crops and family are included on the site.
  3. Vinography: Started in 2004 as a personal project for founder and editor Alder Yarrow, Vinography is a well-respected source for non-mainstream wine writing. It is one of the most influential wine blogs on the Internet, featuring wine and sake reviews, restaurant reviews, editorials, book reviews, wine news, and wine event coverage.
  4. The Global Salmon Initiative (GSI): The GSI leadership initiative began following a meeting of a small number of CEOs of salmon farming companies from Norway, Chile and Scotland. GSI is focused on making significant progress towards fully realizing a shared goal of providing a highly sustainable source of healthy protein to feed a growing population, while  minimizing our environmental footprint, and continuing to improve our social contribution.
  5. National Gardening Association (NGA): More than 35 years old, the NGA is a non-profit leader in plant-based education. The NGA’s vision is to make readily available free educational plant-based materials, grants, and resources that speak to young minds, educators, youth and community organizations, and the general gardening public.

Be sure to share your food-related site with us, we’d love to feature it in our next Favorite Sites Friday post. Leave us your URL in the comments area or shoot us a tweet @foodem.

Tea Basics – Which Do You Prefer?

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Tea is one of the most ubiquitous beverages in the world. From China to England, Russia to India, you would be hard pressed to find a country that does not drink tons of the stuff. Drinking tea also has a number of health benefits. The beverage contains amino acids and vitamins and has been suggested to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Given its popularity, it is not surprising that there are many different kinds to choose. Though typically a subtle-flavored drink, the many varieties of tea each have their own unique taste. Here are a few of the most popular types available.

Black TeaThe most commonly consumed tea in the Western world; most British teas are of the black tea variety. This means that the tea leaves are fully fermented until black, creating a full body and strong earthy flavor.

Green TeaGreen tea is most popular in East Asia and is known for its yellow-green color and many beneficial health effects. The tea leaves are either steamed or roasted and boiled at a cooler temperature than other tea drinks. The taste consists of a good balance of light sweetness and flowery flavors.

Oolong (Wulong) TeaThe typical “Chinese” tea, Oolong tea leaves are intentionally bruised after being plucked in order to promote fermentation. Oolong teas are characteristically smooth with a hint of sweetness.

White TeaFor this tea, the leaves are picked right as they began to develop, leaving them with a light green color. When boiled, the resulting beverage is light in color, flavor, and caffeine content. Often infused with fruit flavors, white tea are typically delicate and relaxing beverage.

There are many more other varieties of tea, but these are the most common. In fact, all forms of tea come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis, and its creativity that has given rise to all the flavors that exist today.

About the Author:

Jordan is a senior at The George Washington University currently pursuing a B.A. in History and a minor in Journalism and Mass Communication. He loves D.C. for its abundance of cuisines just as well as it political scene. You can read more from him at The Grappler.

(Resources 1, 2)

(Photo Courtesy: Hans)

Guest Post: Cultivated Salmon, A More Responsible Product

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Health conscious consumers know that eating salmon has many benefits. Salmon is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and the all-important omega-3 fatty acids. An ongoing dilemma for consumers, however, is whether wild or farm-raised salmon is a better choice. Though there are still pros and cons, the future of salmon lies with farming the fish, and here’s why.

Sustainable production

The world’s population continues to grow, and so does the consumption of fish. Relying solely on fish caught wild in the oceans of the world is simply not going to work forever. Already, numerous areas have been overfished to the point of collapse of their population of marketable fish. The area off Newfoundland, which used to be teeming with cod, was overfished to the point that the cod population, and the fishing industry, collapsed.

Atlantic salmon has also been over-fished to the point where all Atlantic salmon is now farm raised. In fact, experts say that commercial fishing has reached the point where one third of the earth’s wild salmon face the risk of extinction.

We need a different solution than catching wild fish, and that’s where salmon farming can provide the answer. The production of farm raised fish is already on the rise, and cultivated fish is poised to overtake wild-caught fish in total consumption soon.

The aquaculture industry (as fish farming is referred to), is still a relatively young industry, but it is growing and maturing quickly. Two years ago, the global production of aquaculture raised fish surpassed the global production of beef. People have raised other animals for food for centuries, and this is the way of the future for salmon, as well.

 

New methods of salmon farming

There have been concerns about environmental impacts from salmon farming, some of which are valid.  However, much of this is due to the relative youth of the industry. Producers continue to learn from experience, and a number of salmon farmers are moving towards new, more environmentally conscious methods of production.

Last year, a group of fifteen salmon-farming companies from around the globe banded together and announced the creation of the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI). These companies realize that they share the same challenges, and they want to do better in the world. The organization’s goals are to bring broad reforms throughout the aquaculture industry, worldwide.

If they are successful, then these efforts could mitigate existing issues with salmon farming. This would mean consumers will have a healthy, cost-effective solution for purchasing salmon, while knowing they’re doing well for the environment at the same time. It would also take the pressure off the wild fisheries, perhaps saving some species from extinction.

A relatively new certification is now available from the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), which shows that an organization carries out sustainable fish farming methods. All of the GSI companies have committed that 100 percent of their production will be fully ASC-certified by the year 2020. This is highly significant, because these companies produce 70 percent of the world’s farm raised salmon. This is indeed the way of the future.

Salmon for nearly 9 billion people

Whether we like it or not, the population is constantly growing and there’s no way of stopping it. Back in 1950, Earth had about 2.5 billion people, a number that skyrocketed to 7 billion in 2012. By mid-century the numbers will go beyond 9 billion. As the number of people rises, so does the imminent need for food. Salmon is extremely widespread, and unlike some other types, it’s extremely healthy and packed with protein.

Wild salmon has always been a viable source of healthy fish; however the amount is not increasing. Simply put, it can’t satisfy demand anymore, so the only viable alternative left is farmed-raised salmon. For years, aquaculture has had a minor role in the international fish production, but that’s all about to change. Nowadays, aquaculture is a major contributor and increasingly more people are starting to learn about cultivated fish.

Loch Duart for example, is a major name in the industry. They’ve been cultivating salmon since 1999, and they’ve been dedicated to providing high-quality, delicious fish to the people. Their mission is to use sustainable measures to harvest and rear the fish, thus make sure the final product is 100% safe to consume.

(Photo Courtesy: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Mike, Alpha)

To Forage Or Not To Forage?

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Without realizing it, you probably walk or drive past free fruit every day. Perhaps it’s tucked away in a corner of the local park, or sitting ignored on a highway median. Fruit, edible fruits that is, grows in the most surprising places; if no one collects it, much of it will go to waste. Birds and wild animals will consume their fair share, but the rest will rot on the branches or vines in which they grow. Fruit trees and shrubs are often hardy and perennial, and some are even seen as nuisance plants.

In most places you can freely collect food growing on public land, although local laws vary. You may even be able to find a local club that gets together to identify and harvest fruit. The foraging movement has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and there are foraging groups that collect everything from wild greens to edible fungus. Fruit is one of the easier foods to forage, as it is very easy to spot due to the typical bright colors. Some caution is required; not every juicy red berry is edible. Arm yourself with a field guide or one of the many smartphone apps on the market, or find a foraging mentor who will help you learn to identify fruits and berries that are safe to eat. Learn what fruits are available during each season to maximize your finds.

You will be amazed how much edible fruit is hidden away in even the most urban landscapes, once you start actively looking.

Fruit that’s picked in this manner should be thoroughly washed before consuming. Also, if you choose to venture further into untamed areas, you should familiarize yourself with dangerous plants and animals native to that area. Nothing ruins an afternoon of berry-picking more than a brush with poison ivy or an encounter with a venomous snake. A thorough check for ticks is also a good idea when you get home. Also, remember to pack a small first-aid kit for minor scrapes and “bug” spray.

With a little bit of preparation, research, and a keen eye, you should be able to start foraging in your area. It’s extremely rewarding!

(Photo Courtesy: Pix)