Friday, May 18, 2012

Watch Out While Eating Out

I just saw a USAToday article about an 18-month study conducted by the Rand Corp. and funded by the Robert Wood J ohnson Foundation.  This study examined the nutritional content of 30,923 menu items from 245 restaurant brands across the USA and found that a whopping 96% of main entrees sold at top U.S. chain eateries exceed daily limits for calories, sodium, fat and saturated fat recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In general, then, they appear to conclude that eating out is not typically conducive to healthy eating.  While this may not be terribly surprising, here are three additional specific findings that may help inform restaurant nutritional choices:
  • Appetizers often had higher caloric content than main entrees.  Appetizers averaged 813 calories per serving -- main entrees averaged only 674 calories per serving.
  • Family restaurants were actually worse than their dreaded fast-food counterparts.  Entrees at these family-style eateries averaged 271 more calories, 435 more milligrams of sodium and 16 more grams of fat.
  • Kid "specialty" drinks are often not kid "health friendly."  Their median calorie count was 430.  For comparison, regular menu drinks had a median of 360 calories.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sausage Taste Test occasionally reports a series of "Big Bite Taste Tests". Their Sausages edition, by by Katie Barreira, was featured today by Yahoo. It looks like these results were originally published back in October, 2008, but the verdict is: Johnsonville Mild for best Italian, D'Artagnan for best Chorizo, Hebrew National Beef Polish Sausage for best Kielbasa, Applegate Farms Smoked Pork for best Andouille, Shady Brook Farms Turkey Bratwurst for best of the wursts, and Dietz & Watson Buffalo Chicken for best oddball.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Science of Appetite

I recently came across a very interesting article, written by Jeffrey Kluger, in 2007, for Time magazine. He points out that like sex, food is required for the survival of our species. Therefore, nature makes sure that we have a hard time resisting either. Our appetite seems to have been designed to protect us from the case where we might not have enough to eat rather than an almost limitless availability of food. In the modern world, much study has been put into how our appetite works and how we can better control it. As appetite involves taste, smell, sight, texture, brain chemistry, gut chemistry, metabolism, and psychology, however, the human appetite is very complex. In many ways, though, it seems to be all about hormones. If we eat at certain times of the day, we naturally become hungry at those times and the mechanism for our hunger is ghrelin, the hunger hormone. If ghrelin were all there was to it, we and the rats would eat ourselves to death. A peptide released by the upper intestine called cholecystokinin (CCK) followed later by two hormones, GLP-1 and PYY, give us a full feeling and tell us to stop. An appetite-suppressing hormone discovered in 1994, leptin is produced by body fat itself, usually in direct proportion to how much of the tissue you're carrying. The fatter you are, the more leptin you produce. At first it was hoped that correction of leptin levels could be used to curb obesity. It turns out, however, that the leptin system in most overweight people works precisely the way it's supposed to, with hormone levels climbing more or less in lockstep with weight. The problem is, at some point the stuff simply stops working—or at least stops keeping pace with the numbers on the scale. Researchers have discovered at least two dozen other hormones and peptides that play a role in our appetite control system. From the kitchen perspective, some research involves taming appetite by trying to find a more precise way to balance the glucose loads various foods deliver to the body. Barbara Rolls, volumetrics approach targets higher volume but lower calorie foods to better control appetite. Somewhat conincidentally, I have started reading "Master Your Metabolism" by Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser. It is about this very topic, controlling hormones by what you put into and subject your body to. One day we may fully understand and be better able to control appetite. Based on the obesity epidemic, we are not yet there, but it is important that we get closer.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Leveraging Leftovers

As I am part of a fairly large household, we typically end up with a variety of leftovers.  In this holiday season, that is even more true.  On Safeway's website, however, I came across their "Holiday-Leftovers" Lounge."  Here they have posted quite a few recipes targeted at using up those holiday leftovers in some very creative ways.  At first glance, many of them look quite good.  I certainly plan on trying some of them.  I wanted to share, however, so that others might check this out and possibly also take advantage of them.  If you're like me, stretching the food budget is a necessity.  Some of these ideas, however, may result in some new and enjoyable meals that will make you and your family truly enjoy not only the cost savings, but also the taste.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Respectable Roux

With Thanksgiving, I've had more than usual amounts of gravy this week (the event itself, leftover creations, and a sausage gravy for breakfast).  Some of these involved the use of a roux (a thickener made from cooking a mixture of fat and flour).  While I certainly have dabbled and experimented with thickened gravies and sauces, I certainly have no formal training in this area.  Therefore, I did a small amount of research on the subject of roux and its applications.  It seems that the basic recipe to create a roux is to mix equal parts of flour and fat.  This mixture is then cooked for several minutes to "brown" the flour   Apparently, this cooking step in making a roux allows the starch granules of the flour to swell and absorb moisture, preventing the flour from clumping or forming lumps. Also, cooking the flour removes its raw taste and can give it a slight nutty, toasted flavor.  In order to create the gravy or sauce, the roux is added to a liquid to thicken it.  While this may need to be adjusted for your desired thickeness, the norm seems to be somewhere between 1 and 2 tablespoons or roux per cup of stock (or other liquid).  The right use of a roux should result in flavorful and lump-free sauce or gravy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fifty Ways to Mash Potatoes

This time of year you can find all kinds of great Thanksgiving dinner recipes.  For me, however, no part of the meal is more important than the mashed potatoes.  For Thanksgiving dinner itself, I have no plans to mess with our tried and true traditional recipe, but Food Network Magazine has published a list of fifty ways to mix up mashed spuds.  If you haven't checked it out yet, some of these look pretty darn tasty.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It's Monopoly Season Again

So once again, this is not really a culinary topic, but I can't help myself.  I stopped at my local McDonalds this morning for breakfast and received Monopoly game pieces on my drink cup.  Now I have never won anything of consequence, in this or any other game of chance, although I am very happy with the food prizes I have occasionally "earned".  Despite this poor track record, I am eternally optimistic that I am truly "lucky".  If we want to get philosophical, I have been extremely lucky in my health, family, and happiness.  I am truly grateful for all that I have.  I think we all probably know what I mean, though.  I am talking about the type of "luck" experienced by someone who wins a life changing amount from a lottery or contest such as this.  I can feel it -- this is my year.  This is not the first year I've had that feeling, though.  I think that I like contests such as this because I feel that it is not really costing me in the same way that buying lottery tickets and the like might.  I might purchase the occasional drink or fast food menu item anyway.  Deep down, however, I know its not true.  I am part of the reason that companies like McDonalds use these contests as a marketing tool.  I don't care.  I'm going to enjoy my month of Monopoly.  Good luck to all my fellow players, but I plan on winning.