Monthly Archives: August 2013

Winding Down Summer with Healthy Reminders

Also be aware that the heat and humidity of summer make your car and your kitchen an incubator for breeding bacteria. The trunk is not a place for storing perishable groceries. It is simply too hot. Remember that fresh meat, chicken or fish contain contaminated liquid, so bag them in a separate plastic bag to keep their juices away from your produce when inside the grocery bag or on the kitchen counter. Any item that should be frozen or refrigerated should be put away as soon as you get home. Don't leave it on the counter while you decide what to make for dinner. And, by the way, that kitchen counter and cutting board are also good breeding grounds for bacteria. Make sure they are clean. Sponges are a wonderful place for bacteria to grow; wash them in the dishwasher, washing machine or in the sink with very hot water. Use disposable wipes if you are dubious about whether you can keep the sponges sufficiently clean. Sponges should not become an indoor compost heap.

Were you told that you must let cooked food cool down before refrigerating it? If so, don't. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, unless you are about to consume that mac and cheese casserole or roast chicken as soon as it is ready, cool it rapidly by putting it in the freezer and then, once it is cool, (unless you want it frozen) refrigerate it. The CDC adds something most of us are not aware of: Don't crowd the refrigerator. Too much food pushed together decreases air circulation and cooling. Need the following be said? Don't hold the refrigerator door opened for any longer than necessary. It's not that interesting inside and while you are wondering on what you can nibble, the cool air is getting out.

Recipes suggest serving foods at room temperature because cold foods sometimes lose their flavor. Nonetheless, the hummus or crabmeat dip will have to sacrifice flavors for safety. Keep them cold or, where appropriate, very hot.

Blue and green may be your favorite colors but when they decorate the surface of your leftovers or streak your cheese, throw them out. Indeed, three days is about long enough for leftover fish and houseguests. Freezing leftovers is probably a better option, unless you tend to forget about them when they are in the freezer. Labeling your frozen dishes with dates is a useful habit.

You are able to control the safety of food in your own kitchen, of course, but food prepared in other kitchens presents potentially greater hazards. Years ago we were at a dinner party at the home of a somewhat flaky hostess. As I was helping to stack plates from the main course into the sink, I noticed her opening jars of what looked like preserved peaches. What I really noticed was an inch of grayish fuzz on top of the peaches. “Oh this is just some mold,” I heard her say. “If I wipe it off, the peaches should be all right.” I tried to say something but she brushed aside my protestations so I did the next best thing. I whispered to my husband that under no circumstances was he to touch the dessert. The next day she called to find out how we were feeling.

Unless a brunch or dinner party is in an unheated cabin in the Arctic, beware of foods sitting out for more than a few minutes. A warm room can put some extra protein in those serving platters in the form of bacteria. This is also true of foods on picnic tables during a cookout. Bacteria love to settle in mayonnaise, sour cream and soft cheeses, and they become happy little organisms residing in sun-warmed potato or pasta salads. The same is true of any cream or egg-filled dish.

Ideally, containers of food that should be kept cold should be in pans of ice that are replenished as the ice melts, but it is doubtful that many picnic tables are set up this way. Raw hamburger or chicken waiting to be grilled should be in the refrigerator until cooking time, not warming up in a humid, hot air mass. If the temperature is high enough, then the bacteria may be grilled out of existence but the only way to tell is to whip out your food thermometer and check the temperature of the chicken thigh or hamburger.

However, unless you are wearing a white lab coat with a badge from the department of Public Health, people may think you strange if you take the temperature of your steak. So if your host is somewhat casual about safe food preparation, choose foods that are probably resistant to bacterial growth like chips, fresh fruit and vegetables, and hot dog rolls (without the hot dog).

Food vendors, be they at sit-down restaurants or standing at a cart selling corndogs at a fair, must be licensed and inspected by local departments of public health. But this doesn't mean that you can be confident that the food handler is abiding by good food practices. Use common sense. If the barbecued chicken or coleslaw is being served from containers sitting in a hot food truck or baking under the sun of a fairground, resist temptation to eat them. Is the server wearing plastic gloves, or making your tuna salad wrap with his or her bare hands? Want to put tartar sauce on your fried clams? How long has that container been sitting on the condiment shelf? All day? Interestingly, the foods which may shorten your life span because of their excessive fat content (e.g., fried Oreos or fried butter) are unlikely to give you food poisoning because the temperature of the oil in which they are deep fried is so high. Every cloud has a silver lining!

And finally, don't forget to wash your hands before eating. Your mother was right about that hint as well.]]>

Juice Cleanses: The New Eating Disorder?

These juice fasts, popularized by celebrities but now part of the mainstream “What diet should I follow this year?” culture, are generating more than $5 billion per year. A quick scan of the Internet reveals numerous books, programs and companies each claiming their program to be the best way to rid the body of toxins, excess calories and biological debris from the consumption of food and alcohol. What these self-proclaimed experts on the physiology of the body don't tell their customers? The body is already outfitted with perfectly good ways of getting rid of toxins. (Otherwise how could mankind have survived all this time before the cleansing fasts were invented?)

What is worrisome about the ever-growing popularity of such regimens is that they lack nutrients essential for the normal functioning of the body and brain. And they appeal to a segment of the population that wishes to eliminate eating so they can become super-skinny.

Although a solution of lemon juice and cayenne pepper, if put on the skin, may keep away mosquitoes, it does nothing to support the work of the brain or maintain the integrity of bone mass and muscle strength. The brain needs energy in the form of glucose to function, and its many neurotransmitters that send messages among the neurons require specific nutrients such as amino acids to keep being made. Personally, I would not want to be in a plane flown by a pilot following a cleanse diet or on an operating table about to be opened up by a surgeon who spent the previous weekend drinking only lemon juice and blended wheat grass. Moreover, where is the protein, calcium and vitamin D to maintain muscle and bone strength? Too be sure, not eating for a day or so is not going to affect physiological processes. After all, many cultures observe fast days without any harmful effects. But if the fast is prolonged we usually call this famine, and hasten to provide the missing nutrients to a population living on too little food.

These cleansing fasts are generating another problem, namely a new eating disorder. According to an article in the magazine Marie Claire, a sub-group of cleanse devotees called juicerexics have surfaced. These super-skinny women follow the cleanse diets repeatedly and for long periods of time, thus enabling them to lose substantial amounts of weight. According to experts interviewed for the magazine, when some women go on a juice fast and find themselves losing weight, it awakens some sort of dormant obsession to become extremely thin. And unlike the typical anorectic who is urged to eat, these women are praised and congratulated for their discipline in following a diet that purifies their body. Interestingly, like some anorectics who go from starvation to bingeing and then starvation, these juicerexics may also go from detox to retox and back to detox. They may spend a weekend eating and drinking excessively and then return to many days of the starvation cleanse.

The cost of the nutrient-deficient cleanse diet and its associated weight loss is much more than the price of a new wardrobe. The cost can be osteoporosis and frailty, conditions we associate with elderly women confined to wheelchairs. Women in mid-life become increasingly vulnerable to fragile bones, i.e. osteoporosis, due to a menopausal decline in estrogen. Preventing osteoporosis requires eating substantial amounts of calcium from food, as well as vitamin D and exercise. Once the disease is established, drugs must be taken to slow down or stop its progress. Less well-known, but just as worrisome, is a condition known as sarcopenia or muscle wasting. Loss of muscle after prolonged inactivity, such as occurs with a broken limb or long illness, has been known for decades. But until recently, muscle loss associated with inadequate protein intake combined with a sedentary lifestyle is getting more attention. It, like osteoporosis, is a serious problem since it is associated with frailty, lack of balance, falls and difficulty living independently.

Might the chronic nutrient deficiency associated with prolonged cleanses and juice fasts lead to degenerative changes in bones and muscles two or three decades later? Is the price of the super-skinny body of the juicerexic going to be a future of broken bones and weak muscles? Will substituting lemon juice and pepper for meals lead not to a “purified” body but rather one that in the future is so frail, it must reside in a wheelchair?

Unfortunately, the message that the body requires a variety of nutrients consumed every day has neither the novelty nor the commercial pressure behind it to get much notice. Perhaps the answer is to rely on the old concept of “You are what you eat.” If we want to be healthy in brain and body, we must not rely on nutrients that would not even nourish a gnat.]]>