Scan the fine print on almost any processed food in the grocery store and you’re likely to find emulsifiers: Ingredients such as polysorbate 80, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols, and xanthan and other “gums,” all of which keep ingredients—often oils and fats—from separating. They are also used to improve the texture and shelf-life of many foods found in supermarkets, from ice cream and baked goods, to salad dressings, veggie burgers, non-dairy milks, and hamburger patties.
Now, a new study released today in the journal Nature suggests these ingredients may also be contributing to the rising incidence of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease by interfering with microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, known as “gut microbio.” Read more
Eastern Washington is commodity wheat country; over 2 million acres of the grain grow in the state each year. Although researchers and farmers continue to explore alternative crops, today’s soft white wheat is remarkably easy and cheap to grow in this arid region.
Over a decade ago, however, two small Washington farms began embracing diverse varieties of wheat, growing hulled ancestors including spelt, emmer, and einkorn, collectively called farro. It’s often difficult to create demand for an unfamiliar crop—and these two farms took different, yet equally successful, approaches. Read more
We’ve begun to expect unusual flavors like chili, salt, and lavender in chocolate. But there might be another surprising addition to your Valentine’s Day sweets: heavy metals.
According to the consumer health watchdog As You Sow, there’s a good chance that chocolate you buy may contain lead or cadmium. Lab test results obtained by the group examined 42 products, 26 of which contained lead and/or cadmium at levels above what the state of California considers safe. The brands that tested positive for heavy metals included Hershey’s, Mars, Ghiradhelli, Godiva, See’s, Lindt, Whole Foods, and Green and Black’s. Read more
Last September I described how surprisingly unhealthy foods–Rice Krispies treats, donuts, and Pop Tarts–can be fed to children in federally funded daycare meal programs.
Now, federal daycare meals are about to get their first nutritional overhaul since 1968. Under the same 2010 legislation mandating healthier school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was charged with coming up with improved standards for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the program that oversees daycare food as well as meals served in after-school snack programs, adult group homes, and similar facilities.
The USDA released its proposed new CACFP rules in January and the results are decidedly mixed. Read more
To cook or not to cook.
It’s a question that writer Peg Bracken lampooned in 1960, with the publication of The I Hate to Cook Book, which sold three million copies. Three years later, Betty Friedan would challenge women to explore a world beyond the kitchen and other housework in her seminal work, The Feminine Mystique.
Fast-forward a half century, and it’s a question that we continue to ask ourselves, chew on—and in many cases—spit out. The most recent round in the debate surfaced last summer, on the heels of a study conducted at North Carolina State University. Based on interviews with 150 mothers, the authors of “The Joy of Cooking?” critique a recent school of thought that the feel-good benefits of home cooking outweigh its burdens, namely lack of time and money. Read more
On a rainy November afternoon in Portland, Oregon, 21 high school students took the food handlers’ exam in a church basement. The usual chattering of nearly two dozen young people dropped to a silence as they worked. Sitting upstairs, I could tell when they had finished by the sounds of laughter coming from the basement kitchen.
These teenagers are participating in the Portland Kitchen, “Oregon’s only free culinary after-school program for youth,” according to founder Abigail Herrera. Read more
Stroll the aisles of your local health food store and our country’s love of “functional beverages”—drinks fortified with vitamins, minerals, and other “healthy” additives—becomes apparent. Products in this $17 billion industry claim to strengthen your immune system, flood your body with antioxidants, and boost energy. It’s faddish, yes. But one of the latest additions, maple water, may also help preserve North American forests and put some welcome cash in the pockets of small farmers. Read more
Armed with a healthy dose of caffeine chronopharmacology, we embark on a global breakfast tour that exposes the worldwide dominance of Nutella, as well as the toddler kimchi acclimatization process. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., we trace the American breakfast’s evolution from a humble mash-up of leftover dinner foods to its eighteenth-century explosion into a feast of meats, griddle cakes, eel, and pie—followed swiftly by a national case of indigestion and a granola-fueled backlash. Breakfast has been a battleground ever since: in this episode, we not only explain why, but also serve up the best breakfast contemporary science can provide. Read more
Big food companies have long pushed for personal responsibility among consumers—the idea that, given the right information, most people can regulate their own diet and make good choices.
Take McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson. According to him, the mega-corporation hopes to, “use our size and scale around the world to help educate, empower, and encourage our customers to make informed choices so they can live a balanced, healthy lifestyle.” Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association’s new public awareness campaign and accompanying Mixify website is another good example. They’re aimed at educating the soda-drinking audience with a “calories in, calories out” message to prevent obesity. Read more
Chef Sean Sherman grew up Ogallala Sioux on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. After working his way up through a number of kitchens in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sherman decided he needed to strike out on his own. In April, he launched his event catering business as “The Sioux Chef.” And he’s working on a restaurant of the same name. Read more