Little Green Algae Saves the Day

Truth be told, it’s going outside that gets me to exercise at all. I’m dependent on the beauty of nature. The gym is not for me. On most days, I walk outside in the gardens and parks and on the sidewalks because I don’t own a car. I made a Prospect Park Pinterest page to post some of the photos I take in Brooklyn’s Botanic Garden and Prospect Park with my crappy phone. This week I am gaga about the pond scum – algae – growing on the water in the ancient artificial pond in The Vale of Cashmere. The Vale is aptly described as “a strangely forsaken forest idyll in Prospect Park” in this photo essay. The lush formal garden is sunk into a glacial kettle where the wildlife live and play.

I ♥ Pond Scum

Pond scum – algae – are as much animal as plant. They contain chlorophyll and other plant pigments, but they don’t have stems, roots, or leaves. They have a true nucleus (plant cells do not) enclosed in a cell membrane with lots of DNA functions going on inside.

Someday, algae could save the world. Scientists are growing algae that convert sugars into hydrocarbon fuel to replace oil, plus algae can convert sugars into fat that, compared to traditional fats, has a healthier nutrient composition, a smooth mouth-feel and a rich taste that makes it perfect for baked goods. This new, sustainable fat works as a partial substitute for butter, eggs and even meat and growing it takes up so little space. We already eat algae as carrageenan, Irish moss seaweed, in ice cream, soy milk, and beer. Craig Venter, algae geneticist and entrepreneur, tells Scientific American, “Algae is a farming problem: growing, harvesting, extracting. It’s a work in progress, and we’re working hard.”

Pond scum saves the world! How great is that?

Your thoughts: Are you an algae fan?

Hepatitis C and All of We

Line up baby boomers – all 78 million of you – it’s time to test for hepatitis C. That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) propose. We all need to get a blood test. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver that may progress to liver cancer or cirrhosis. Hepatitis C, the most common type in the United States, is spread when blood from a person infected with the virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Around 15%–25% of infected people clear the virus without any treatment, but the remaining 75%–85% develop a chronic infection that may be silent for years. Most infected people don’t feel sick – while their livers are slowly being damaged.

Historically, the CDC has recommended testing people known to be at high risk.  They include current and past users of injection drugs, recipients of blood transfusions and organ transplants before 1990 when screening blood donations became widespread, and healthcare workers exposed to blood. Much less commonly, the hepatitis C virus is spread by sharing razors, toothbrushes, and other personal care items that may come in contact with blood. Having sex with someone infected with hepatitis C is somewhat risky too, especially when exposed to multiple sex partners who have sexually transmitted diseases. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Bummer.

I, for one, I wish the CDC would stop scaring me. Doctors test for the hepatitis C antibody (also called HCAb or anti-HCV) to tell if you’ve been infected. The test is very sensitive, which means false positives, more testing, and more being scared. All when only 3 percent of asymptomatic boomers actually test positive. As a responsible health blogger, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I am always skeptical of guidelines that push asymptomatic individuals en masse towards prescriptions. I just wonder who is being best served. The CDC’s draft recommendations are available for public comment until June 8, 2012.

Your thoughts: Are you worried about having hepatitis C?

Addendum:  August 16, 2012
It’s official: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending that all U.S. baby boomers get a one-time test for hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, according to final screening guidelines released by the public health agency.  Read more.

Hey Sailor! Watch Your Weight

Thousands of sailors wearing their summer dress whites hit the streets of New York City today, the start of Fleet Week. You’d think I’d be over the uniform by now, having worked as a cocktail waitress in the enlisted man’s club back in the day when the Navy was in Newport, Rhode Island. But, no, I’m still captivated by that costume, unchanged since the late 1800s. It is a uniform is build on tradition: bell bottom trousers are easy to roll for deck work, the neckerchief functions as a sweat band, the jumper’s collar keeps tar spots off the shirt, and the indestructible “Dixie Cup” hat is comfortable and easy to make and clean.

The Future of the Fleet

Here’s hoping our shores stay safe because we don’t have the men to defend them. Of all military applicants, 25 percent are declared unfit to serve and rejected because they are overweight or obese. CDC data shows, in 1960, the average American man was 5’8” tall and weighed 166 pounds; by 2004, he was 5’9” tall and weighed-in at 191. The military only accepts candidates who fall into a specific height and weight range. A fighting man’s height is between 5’0” to 6’6” and the Navy’s maximum allowable weight is around BMI 25.5, which translates to 174 pounds at 5’9.” If an applicant exceeds the weight on the chart, then his body fat is measured and the goal is 23 percent or less, a realistic number. I’m not worried because those young guys can get fit fast when they try, and in a Star Wars defense system, unfit sailors can sit at computers. But what about those cute sailor suits? They won’t look nearly so fine.

Your thoughts: Is weight threatening national defense? How ’bout that sailor suit?

Take the Stairs (and Burn 7 Calories)

Upon visiting my apartment, a new friend said, “I would never buy a walk-up. There are too many stairs.”  I don’t share my friend’s opinion. I prefer to be grateful when “forced to be fit.”

My building was erected in 1916.  I live on the third of four floors. From the sidewalk, there are 39 steps to my apartment door. The 39 Steps like the Alfred Hitchcock 1935 film, and The 39 Steps Monsterpiece Theater classic. (Remember Grover?)  And almost like The 40 Steps on the Newport Cliff Walk back at home.

In total, there are 39 stairs, plus 33 walking steps across the lobby and the landings. I climb the 39 steps many time throughout the day to check the mail, throw away the trash, enter the basement, and leave the house in general, plus repeat in forgetfulness. Not to shabby in the stair climbing department, right? Not so fast.

One round of 39 steps takes me half a minute. I timed it. I burn six calories going up and one calorie going down – 7 calories for one round of 39 steps! I found that at Calorie Count. They calculate that I burn 381 calories per hour climbing up stairs. Because I helped the developers, I know those figures are based on The Compendium of Physical Activities, the last word on calories burned in activities, no matter how mundane.

I think most people would have guessed more than seven calories for my steps, but it just goes to show how efficient our bodies are. And so, if I do 10 rounds of steps, I burn 70 calories. That’s the calories in one apple, or ten almonds, or 1½ Oreo cookies, etc. – for 10 rounds. I think most people would have guessed more.

Your thoughts: Are you surprised by that measly number?







Are You An Intuitive Eater? Take the Test

I am finishing up my presentation for the Women’s Health and Fitness Expo on Saturday in Kingston, NY. Lucky me! I get to go to Rhinebeck, a place where fairies flower-bounce in the glade. (Ahem, back to work.) I’ll be speaking on behalf of Diets In Review, discussing intuitive eating, the only weight loss method that makes any sense to me. I’ll be using a scale (questions – not a device for measuring weight) to portray the mindset of an intuitive eater vs. a traditional dieter. Take a look and see.

This Intuitive Eating Scale has pretty good questions, but it is by no means the only test in town. I’m not even using it correctly, insofar as it is meant to be a Likert-type scale (rate your answers from strongly disagree to strongly agree), not a True or False test. But, the way I see it, all incorrect answers call for some soul-searching. Like many research tools, this scale has been validated for Caucasian, middle-class, healthy, normal weight college students. Still, the level of agreement is highest for non-dieters (individuals at peace with food).

Take the Test
The correct answer is always “yes” except when (R) is present, when the correct answer is “no.”

  1. Without really trying, I naturally select the right types and amounts of food to be healthy.
  2. I generally count calories before deciding if something is OK to eat. (R)
  3. One of my main reasons for exercising is to manage my weight. (R)
  4. I seldom eat unless I notice that I am physically hungry.
  5. I am hopeful that I will someday find a new diet that will actually work for me. (R)
  6. The health and strength of my body is more important to me than how much I weigh.
  7. I often turn to food when I feel sad, anxious, lonely, or stressed out. (R)
  8. There are certain foods that I really like, but I try to avoid them so that I won’t gain weight. (R)
  9. I am often frustrated with my body size and wish that I could control it better. (R)
  10. I consciously try to eat whatever kind of food I think will satisfy my hunger the best.
  11. I am afraid to be around some foods because I don’t want to be tempted to indulge myself. (R)
  12. I am happy with my body even if it isn’t very good looking.
  13. I normally eat slowly and pay attention to how physically satisfying my food is.
  14. I am often either on a diet or seriously considering going on a diet. (R)
  15. I usually feel like a failure when I eat more than I should. (R)
  16. After eating, I often realize that I am fuller than I would like to be. (R)
  17. I often feel physically weak and hungry because I am dieting to control my weight. (R)
  18. I often put off buying clothes, participating in fun activities, or going on vacations (hoping I can get thinner first). (R)
  19. When I feel especially good or happy, I like to celebrate by eating. (R)
  20. I often find myself looking for something to eat or making plans to eat—even when I am not really hungry. (R)
  21. I feel pressure from those around me to control my weight or watch what I eat. (R)
  22. I worry more about how fattening a food might be, rather than how nutritious it might be. (R)
  23. It’s hard to resist eating something good if it is around me, even if I’m not very hungry. (R)
  24. On social occasions, I feel pressure to eat the way those around me are eating—even if I am not hungry. (R)
  25. I honestly don’t care how much I weigh, as long as I’m physically fit, healthy, and can do the things I want.
  26. I feel safest if I have a diet plan, or diet menu, to guide my eating. (R)
  27. I mostly exercise because of how good it makes me feel physically.

Your thoughts: How did you do? What do you think of the questions?

Light Treatment for a Heavy Matter

Have you heard about the documentary, Weight of the Nation™, on HBO in four parts starting on May 14th? The show is so important that HBO is airing it for free! It coincides with a conference in Washington this week also called, Weight of the Nation, hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. (What a mouthful!) The conference showcased the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) new report, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation.

The IOM evaluated prior obesity prevention strategies and identified recommendations to accelerate progress. They say:

  • Integrate physical activity every day in every way (e.g. make more green space)
  • Make healthy foods and beverages available everywhere (e.g. health vending machines)
  • Market what matters for a healthy life (e.g. industry-wide guidelines on food and drinks marketed to kids)
  • Activate employers and health care professionals (e.g. more worksite wellness programs – yawn)
  • Strengthen schools as the heart of health (e.g. 60 minutes of physical activity in schools every day! That’s after you lay-off the teachers and teach to the test.)

Do you remember last November when the IOM recommended ways to made school lunch healthier? Congress sold out to Big Food in the “pizza as a vegetable” fiasco. I wrote about it for Diets In Review, Congress Denies All Changes to School Lunch Throwing Children’s Health Under the Bus.

Sorry, but I’ve been following this issue going on 40 years, and don’t think this will make a difference. I see the ultimate solution (to all things) as coming from the people. Kids who were practically born fat and sick will find their indignation and provide the critical mass needed to turn the tide toward all things healthy.  Alternately, a good famine could save the day. In the end, only the obese will survive!

Read all of the IOM’s recommendations here.

Your thoughts: What will it take to fix the obesity crisis?

A Reading List for Serious Foodies

Quick, let me publish this before it gets lost on the information superhighway. This is the list of books and magazines that were for sale at the First Annual Food Book Fair in Brooklyn last weekend, May 4 – 6, 2012, at the new über hip Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg. The meat of the event was the book talks and signings by the authors. Check out the lineup of panel discussions. I attended only a few, but they were first rate. I bought two books, Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy and Really Well by Peter Kaminsky, as a model for eating with joy while losing weight without dieting for “the patients,” and the brand new The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Ellix Katz (and Michael Pollan). In-depth for sure. Go Sandor! (See my article, The Case for Fermented Foods.)

Food Book Fair 2012 Publications List

A Girl and Her Pig: Recipes and Stories, April Bloomfield, JJ Goode
A Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir, Amy Trubek
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, Tamar Adler
Appetite For Profit, Michele Simon

Bi-Rite Markets Eat Good Food, Sam Mogannam; Dabney Gough
Bite Me: Food in Popular Culture, Fabio Parasecoli
Breaking Through Concrete, Edwin Marty, David Hanson and Michael Hanson

Canal House Cooking, Christopher Hirsheimer; Melissa Hamilton
Cheese and Culture: A History of Cheese and its Place in Western Civilization, Paul Kindstedt
Colonel Sanders and The American Dream, Josh Ozersky
Cooking with Jams and Chutneys, Recipes From Beth’s Farm Kitchen, Beth Linskey
Cooking without Borders, Anita Lo; Charlotte Druckman
Culinary Careers: How to Get Your Dream Job in Food with Advice from Top Culinary Professionals, Rick Smillow and Anne E. McBride
Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy and Really Well, Peter Kaminsky
Curried Cultures: Globalization, Food, and South Asia, Krishnendu Ray

Delicate: New Food Culture, R. Klanten; K. Bolhöfer; A. Mollard;S. Ehmann
Diner Journal

Eat Love: Food Concepts by Eating-Designer Marije Vogelzang, Marije Vogelzang; Louise
Eat With Your Hands, Zakary Pelaccio
Eating History, Andrew F. Smith
Edible Brooklyn Cookbook and others, Rachel Wharton
Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front,
Joel Salatin

Click to see the full Food Book Fair 2012 Publications List.

Your thoughts: Do you have foodie books to recommend?

A Tupperware Party, New York City Style

Tupperware recently hosted a party to showcase their new line of products – choppers, smoothie makers, cream whippers, pots, pans, and cutlery – to food writers. The event was held at the Tasting Table, a new test kitchen and dining room in SoHo, and featured chef Marco Canora of Hearth Restaurant and the Food Network’s Iron Chef fame. Chef Marco whipped up a few dishes for us and everything was beyond delicious. Watch him at the event butterfly, season, pound, and saute his “Flavor Pounded Chicken.” The end product was crispy and light, like no boneless breast I’ve had. At the party, I discovered a few things worth sharing.

Chef Marco is all about soffritto. Soffritto is a mixture of very finely chopped vegetables, such as onions, celery, and carrots or fennel, with or without herbs and garlic, that is sautéed in hot olive oil. The natural vegetable sugars caramelize as they cook for quite awhile. Soffritto gives Italian stews, sauces and braised dishes their flavor, but every great cuisine has a soffritto. For instance, the Far East has scallions ginger and garlic, and in Spain, soffritto is peppers onions and garlic. Marco Canora’s cookbook, Salt to Taste: The Key to Confident, Delicious Cooking explains it all.

Tupperware Chop ’N Prep™ Chef
You’re probably saying, “I don’t need that,” but you do. This tool makes soffritto easy. Chef Marco says, “Mince the vegetables very small, like grains of sand.” Watch the Chop ’N Prep Chef in action. I use it to chop my fresh herbs. What a delight.

Universal Series Knives Starter Set
The joy of cooking with really sharp knives… We attendees got two all purpose Tupperware knives as a party favor. The set includes a heavy duty prep knife and a delicate paring knife, each with a protective sheath because the knives are really that sharp.

By the end of the party, I was all set to enroll in Chef Marco’s Tuscan Cooking School this summer and to buy more Tupperware from the online catalog. I could never top that party,

Your thoughts: Could you use some new cooking gadgets?