bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Will Watson render cookbook authors obsolete?

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Have you guys heard of Watson? No, not that Watson. The flavour combining computer that’s just released a cookbook? Based on this review I don’t think that human cookbook authors have much to fear just yet. In fact, Watson didn’t actually write the recipes, he was more like the provider of ingredients on Master Chef. Based on algorithms he suggested ingredient and flavour combinations that chefs then used to develop recipes for the cookbook. Kind of neat, but it’s already been done, just not by a computer.

If you want to play Watson and develop new recipes based on flavour profiles you might want to pick-up Niki Segnit’s The Flavour ThesaurusNo, I’m not being paid to plug this. It just happens to be a book I own. It gives you recipe ideas and pairings based on flavour profiles. Essentially, you look up an ingredient and it will tell you a number of other ingredients that it pairs well with, as well as recipe and preparation suggestions. Some are obvious, like chocolate and peanut butter. Others are a little more surprising, like egg and banana, based on sweetened omelettes that are common in French cuisine. Who needs Watson?


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Lessons from salty restaurant meals

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Last week a study was released showing that sodium levels in chain restaurant meals are still ridiculously high.

The researchers found that some meals contained roughly the maximum amount of sodium an adult should consume throughout an entire day. Sure, some people only eat one meal a day, but this isn’t a recommended pattern of eating, and most of us eat at least three times a day.

While I agree with the researchers that there need to be regulations to ensure that restaurant meals, and packaged foods for that matter, contain lower amounts of sodium and menus are labelled, I think that there are a few more important lessons to be learned here.

First, I just have to say the thing that bothered me the most upon hearing the story on the radio was the man from the restaurant industry who stated that sodium is necessary for flavour and food safety! I get that salt is a common preservative but when I’m eating at a restaurant I’m going for fresh, quality food. The thought that high levels of salt are added to food to make it safe is rather alarming to me. As for the flavour comment, that’s what salt shakers are for. Customers should be given the option of adding more salt to their food. Obviously you can’t remove salt once it’s in a meal (well, at least not at a restaurant table, perhaps in a lab) so why not use the least amount of salt possible, flavour with herb, spices, and lemon zest, and allow customers to add more salt if they desire.

Okay… on to what I think are the important lessons to be learned here… One, this study only looked at restaurants with at least 20 locations. That means local restaurants were not included. Many of these places employ excellent chefs who use fresh ingredients and don’t rely on salt to make their meals flavourful. Talk to the chef if you have concerns about ingredients, find out if nutrition information is available for your favourite dishes. Ultimately: avoid chain restaurants; buy local.

Two, you should be preparing the majority of the meals you eat yourself. Sorry, but you can’t trust anyone. Only you can take care of yourself. Try to use minimally processed ingredients and read labels on any packaged foods you purchase. Restaurants are lovely for a treat but they shouldn’t be providing you with the majority of your meals. Be your own personal chef.


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Recipe: Quinoa Pumpkin Pie Granola

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I shared a pumpkin granola recipe a couple of years ago. That one was kind of chewy. This one is nice and crunchy.

Ingredients: 

4 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup uncooked quinoa

1 cup pecan pieces

1/4 cup flax seeds

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

dash of ground nutmeg

1/4 cup melted virgin coconut oil

1/2 cup honey (or maple syrup)

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 – 1 cup raisins

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300F.

In a large bowl, mix together all of the dry ingredients (except for the raisins), then add the wet. Combine thoroughly. I find my hands are best for mixing so ditch the spoon if you want. Depending on your own size, you can spread on one large baking sheet or two smaller ones. Bake in middle of oven for about 45 minutes, stirring every ten minutes or so. Granola is done when it turns a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and stir in the raisins. Allow to cool then store in an airtight container.


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More on the return to home ec.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the push for home economics (especially food skills) to return to high schools (as a mandatory course) in Ontario. I’m completely behind this idea. That being said, we were talking about that back when I worked in public health and that was more than two years ago (and I’m sure that the conversation predated my time). I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

I also think that we need to go further than reintroducing a re-vamped sexier home ec. in high schools. We need to catch kids when they’re young. Many elementary schools now have gardens which are a great way to teach children about growing, harvesting, and preparing food. They’re also great places for teaching children about math and other core subjects. I think that food literacy should be one of these school subjects. Children should receive more education about food and nutrition than the occasional food guide or guest dietitian presentation in health class.

 

If we want children to develop healthy habits for life then we need to show them what healthy living is. It’s not enough to ban cookies in the cafeterias. Our goal should be that no student should finish their school without knowing that carrots have green tops, they don’t come in cans, how to grow vegetables with or without a yard, how to prepare basic nutritious meals, how to slice and dice. We have to eat every day and we shouldn’t be allowing any more children to grow-up without the skills to feed themselves.


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Why you should read the ingredients

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A couple of weeks ago, a study of packaged foods in the US showed that many of them listing 0% trans-fat on the labels actually still contained trans-fat. Many dietitians said, “No shit”. This is why reading the ingredients is often more valuable than reading the nutrition facts panel.

Many manufacturers use trans-fat in their food products but also use a serving size that allows them to report the amount of trans-fat per serving as being 0%. Until trans-fats are banned, what can you do about this? One, you can read the ingredient list. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated”. That’s your trans-fat. Avoid foods containing any partially hydrogenated ingredients. Two, make your own food. When you make it yourself you can decide what goes into your food. Use as few highly-processed packaged foods as possible. I know that it’s not realistic to expect that everyone is going to start cooking and baking everything at home. Be savvy. Do what you can. Aim for packaged foods with as few ingredients as possible. And remember that while you may be saving time in the short-term by buying frozen dinners, you’ll likely lose time in the long-run.