Public Health? Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

ABA Close UpDe do do do, de da da da. Entering the Brooklyn subway on a sunny day. But what’s this? A public health message? Move in closer….img_1921

Okay, I see. Big Soda is paying the MTA to endear us to their products, disguised of healthful advice. This ad is sponsored by the group that represents Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. (I miss Mayor Bloomberg.)
Public Health Indeed!

That was fours days ago. Then. today I woke up to this article in the New York Times: Coke and Pepsi Give Millions to Public Health, Then Lobby Against it. Ah, the public health part.

But these articles, also ripped from today’s headlines, put another spin on “public health”:

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (“The Academy”), the professional organization of registered dietitians in which I once held leadership positions, accepts (a lot of) sponsorship from Big Food. That’s why I am no longer a member. They have sullied my name and so they must be renounced. My dietitian friends will tell you, the phrase “The Academy” always evokes the response, “I hate them.”

Personally, I favor a soda tax (and everything else that can be done to reform our sick brand Capitalism.) I neither drink soda nor eat processed food. (Bread is about as processed as it gets.) I’ve written about why I favor a soda tax in the blog posts listed below.

Your thoughts: How can we stop this?

Talking About the Bug Banquet

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara (with glasses) eating Cricket and Silkworm Tempura Skewers

Barbara:  “Yuck, I don’t think I feel well.”
Mary:  “What, like you want to throw-up?”
Barbara:  “Maybe. I feel like I just ate bugs.”
Mary:  “No kidding. That’s why I didn’t eat any.”

Here, I am talking with my dear friend, Barbara, also a dietitian, in the car on the way home from The Bug Banquet. My long-term readers might Barbara from past blogs, Talking About “What Not to Do” on the BQE and Talking About Oxtails in Brooklyn. Lucy and Ethel-style, Barbara hauled me to an event where insects were on the menu.

As a Johnson & Wales University Professor, Barbara got a special invitation and I was her guest. She was kind of obligated to eat bugs with her colleagues and students there. No one noticed me flitting around, chatting it up, and passing on the bugs. As a product of the western world, I offer no apologies. As a near vegetarian, I am doing the sustainability thing.

Read about the banquet and “cricket flour” in my article for DietsInReview,
The Bug Banquet: Serving Sustainability in a Cricket Pesto Flatbread

Your thoughts: Would you eat insects? Have you? How were they?

Aglio e Olio, A Pasta Story

Aglio e OlioOn his blog, Ed Writes, Stories of the 40’s & 50s, my friend, Dr. Ed Iannuccilli, asks, “Do you have a pasta story to share?” Well, I can think of a pasta story that remotely involves him.

A long time ago, about seven years into my career, I worked as a dietitian in the medical office of Dr. I and his partners, where mostly everyone – professional and support staff alike and the patients too – were of Italian American heritage. I was not.

I had a patient with Anorexia nervosa, a psych condition characterized by a fixation on food and weight, although is really about deeper, difficult emotional issues. Nutrition therapy is an important part of treatment.

Anorexics usually have strange food rituals, such as eating the same food over and over because it feels safe. This patient’s “safe food” was Aglio e Olio [pronounced AH-lyoh ay AW-lyoh], a simple pasta dish that was unknown to me at the time. The patient shared an intimate history. It wouldn’t be right to interrupt. “Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio Aglio e Olio….” Follow the bouncing ball. It was all the patient ate. 

When the appointment finally ended, I burst out of my office into the common area where my coworkers sat. “Help!” I said, “What the hell is Aglio e Olio??!!”

Here’s a recipe for Spaghetti Aglio E Olio. Eat it with other foods as part of a balanced diet

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried spaghetti
  • salt
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 8 large garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Do not overcook. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more.
  • Boil and drain the pasta.
  • Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.
  • Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss. Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Rest the pasta for a few minutes. Serve warm.

Your thoughts: Do you have a pasta story to share?

Confessions of a Wheat Germ Lover

Wheat GermA brief interaction on Twitter led Kretschmer Wheat Germ to me. They are considering me for a “Happy Wheat Germ User” feature, but needed to know more first.

Wheat Germ and Me

As a nutrition-loving baby boomer, it seems like I have always known about wheat germ. Along with soy protein and non-fat dried milk, it was part of Cornell Bread, a staple food developed for wartime rationing in the 1940s (well before my birth!) My first encounter with a regular wheat germ eater took the form of a woman from Switzerland I met in my late teens. She ate wheat germ for breakfast mixed with avocado and honey or as part of muesli along with yogurt. I like to add wheat germ to recipes for pancakes, muffins, veggie burgers, and meatballs. My favorite Wheat Germ Bread is from Jane Brody’s Good Food Book via Kretschmer Wheat Germ a long time ago.

The Original Super-food

As a registered dietitian, people complain to me about feeling stiff-achy-and-punk. Their children are listless and their parents are falling apart with inflammatory diseases and cancers. To them I say, “You really ought to be eating wheat germ!” Wheat germ is LOADED with B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folic acid), vitamin E and essential fatty acids, the minerals iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper and zinc, plus protein and phenolic compounds. Wheat germ is the nazz! In fact, the germ is the richest part of the wheat kernel, which is why white flour is a problem: the germ (and bran) is tossed during in processing. Such a sin.

An Image Problem

A “germ” is a seed, bud, spore, or embryo, the basis of all new life. A plant germ is highly nutritious because it has the nutrients to support future growth.  A “germ” is also a microorganism, especially one that produces disease. People today don’t seem to know that one germ has nothing to do with the other. Wheat germ needs a re-branding campaign. I can help with that.

Here are three good wheat germ recipes from my recipe files at Calorie Count:

Your thoughts: Do you eat (and enjoy) wheat germ?

Hey Brooklyn, What’s in Your Lunch Bag?

brooklynlicious_tote_bagMary:     Why am I doing this? No one begins a TV career at my age.
Brian:    Not so. There’s Judge Judy.
Mary:     Okay. That’s true.

For what it’s worth, that conversation took place on July 10th outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It’s three subway stops from my home.  While the cameraman filmed, I asked regular people on the way to work to let me peek into their lunch bags. It was spontaneous and unrehearsed. You get what you pay for.

“Brian” is Brian Vines (BTW: He drinks half portions of soda at the movies now) of Brooklyn Independent TV. He called to ask what I though about developing a pilot based on what Brooklynites eat for lunch. (Actually, the cameraman’s wife, a Brooklyn foodie, thought the idea would make a good show.) I told Brian to add a few questions to put the lunch choices in context, and suddenly, I was the one asking the questions.

One week later, Amy Sarah Clark from the Prospect Heights Patch posted this on my Mary Hartley RD Facebook timeline:
“I saw your piece at the BRIC media thing today, it was fantastic! Congratulations!”
(Translation: “BRIC media thing” had to do with an event, presentations, and the pilot.)

Really? Sweet! Thanks you! Maybe I should see it. Maybe you should see it too.     

Mary Hartley, RD Asks Brooklyn, “What’s in Your Lunch Bag?”  

Those Brooklynites couldn’t be healthier! Everybody carries produce and no bacon was found. Brooklyn should show the rest of the country how it’s done. As for me, I could be a correspondent, like Ross the Intern. I will even prepare for pay.

Your thoughts:  Do you agree that the lunch idea would make a good show?

Don’t Forget About Walnuts!

I can’t seems to get enough of one of my favorite winter foods: Walnut Stuffed Figs. It’s a Portuguese favorite my mother used to make when I was a little girl.
Here’s the recipe:
Take a dried, but not too dry, fig (Kadota or Calimyrna, I guess.) Cut the fig in half and press as many walnuts as you can into each half. Put the fig sandwich together and mash it down with the heel of your hand. Roll it sugar (this part is unnecessary unless you have a sweet tooth like me but, rest assured, no more than ¼ teaspoon of sugar sticks to each fig) and eat. How simple is that?

I’ve been eating two Walnut Stuffed Figs with a Greek yogurt for breakfast, or lunch, or whatchamacallit. (I’m not the structured type.)  At 110 calories each, they’re quite filling and mad nutritious, full of calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, iron, selenium and zinc, niacin, pyridoxine, folate, and pantothenic acid, as well as alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3), anti-oxidants, and nutrition pigments. (You can skip your supplement for the day.)  Walnut stuffed figs may be wrapped in bacon or topped with Gorgonzola cheese, which is not for everyday, but here are the recipes:

Remember Walnuts!

Full disclosure: the California Walnut Commission has wined and dined me a few times this year. Those guys know how to host a classy event!  It’s hard to believe that walnuts need a promo because who could have a problem with walnuts? But I guess people forget about them and they don’t know how nutritious walnuts are. That’s too bad because walnuts have anti-inflammatory properties that protect against heart disease and diabetes, and they maintain sperm quality, with fewer chromosomal abnormalities, in older men. (I mention this because I know a lot of late 20- and early 30-somethings who are delaying childbearing and, so, guys, take it from me, keep eating walnuts.) Dr. Wendie Robbins, from the UCLA School of Public Health, presented her walnuts-fertility research in Philadelphia at a FNCE dinner hosted by California Walnuts held at Supper, the wonderful ‘New American’ restaurant. Nom nom nom, walnuts with every course.

You must visit the California Walnuts Commission’s recipe page for inspiration. I recommend these two recipes only because I’ve made them and they are seasonal:

Random walnut fact: Do you know the name of the “classic walnut,” the principal variety marketed inshell? It’s the Hartley Walnut, the only variety that can stand vertically!

Your thoughts: How do you eat walnuts? Got a walnut recipe to share?

Whoa! That’s a Lot of Brands

The dietitian’s Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo last week overwhelmed me. Between them, FitBloggin, the Editor’s Cooking & Entertaining Showcase, and other food events in Manhattan, I am up to my neck in swag, branded promotional gifts. I have seen around 500 vendors in 17 days. Did I say I am overwhelmed?  Some products are fantastic (hello, Tupperware~) and others are unexpectedly cool (more about them later) but, overall, none was necessary. But someone, somewhere, has some job.

All in all, the food industry is about developing niche products out of something we already have. Take salt, for instance, simple and necessary. A biblical food. At one end, I met Real Salt, very nice people selling salt harvested from an ancient sea bed unrefined with 60 trace minerals. At the other end is Soda-Lo, also very nice people, who use nanotechnology to recrystalize salt into microscopic hollow crystals that are meant to reduce the salt in processed foods. Both brands (and others) claim to deliver an intense salty taste immediately and so, we need less to register a salty taste. Both companies seem to be telling the truth, as is my man, Alton Brown, who explains the taste of salt.

None of this matters to a body that can utilize salt in any form, from any source, and excrete the excess (when we are in good health.)  As for the teeny bit of 60 trace minerals? I get them in my wholesome food and vitamin-mineral supplement. And the nano-salt? I don’t eat much processed food and I guess nanos are okay….

I have to say that too many brands in too few days messed up my chi, but I am breathing in to restore peace. In the end, the experience left me seriously craving cabbage.

This is My Pledge to you: I will never write about a product unless I truly love it and I actually use it. And if I am paid to write to endorse anything, I will disclose it, and you may never know how I really feel. Full disclosure: No one paid me to mention cabbage.

Your thoughts:  What do you think about having so many brands on the market?

An Over-Extended Family’s Dream

That would be a visit from me. 🙂

Meet the Sharkey family, a working couple with two small children. I helped them to make over their family diet. They were in “damage control” mode and they couldn’t see the forest from the trees. I teased out the issues and then recommended small, simple, specific changes that added up to something significant. Now, they are practicing forever. (Join the club.)

You can read about the Sharkey family intervention, “Hectic to Wholesome,” in Consumer Reports Food & Fitness, a magazine devoted to family health. See my lifestyle suggestions, product recommendations, and “kid friendly” recipes.

Want to schedule an appointment with me? Read about my services.

Your thoughts: Can you relate to the Sharkey family?

My Mondays Are Meatless

Here it is the second Monday after the commotion started when a USDA headquarters interoffice newsletter encouraged employees to choose meatless meals on Mondays in the company cafeteria.

Meatless Monday” is a worldwide public health campaign to go meatless for health one day a week. A New York City ad man from Don Draper days working with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and other big-league players started the crusade. (It shows the power of working across silos.) The USDA newsletter article was not an official position, but it offended the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and a few Republican senators, and so the USDA retracted the statement, removed the newsletter, and apologized to the beef industry. The Meatless Monday folks were not directly involved, but free publicity is good.

It’s All About the Cooking 

Volumes of research show the vegetarian diet is much healthier than a diet full of meat. Not that I’m against meat, a little is nice, but I learned how to be a vegetarian back in my hippie days, and so beans, grains, nuts and seeds, tons of vegetables, and eggs and cheese are simply my staple ingredients. Being a vegetarian is not about “Choose My Plate” with segmented meals, meat-and-potatoes style. Vegetarians tend to eat mixed dishes where grains, beans and cheese become a full meal salad or dish for the first time around and for leftovers.

A recent survey showed that 28% of Americans don’t know how to cook. (I wonder what the others call “cooking.”) Since that 28% is just starting out, they should learn how to cook vegetarian-style. I can attest to the long range health benefits. Here are three meatless recipes that I am cooking this week: Mary’s Wild Rice Salad (bring it to a party); Skillet Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans (impossible to stop eating); Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook Zucchini Feta Pancakes (a summer classic). In August, I try to serve every dish with tomatoes and sweet corn on the side.

Your thoughts: Were you aware of Meatless Mondays? Do you take part?

How Sugar-free Peeps Saved the Day

Aunt Jean: “You have to call your Aunt Pauline. They told her to eat white bread. What’s going on? She doesn’t know what to eat. ”

Mary: “Her kidneys are failing and so she can’t have much potassium. Brown breads have a little more potassium. I’ll visit.”

You would think we dietitians always preach the conventional paradigm of healthy eating, but that is not the case. When the body’s major organ systems fail, we modify our advice.  For example, my Aunt Pauline’s kidneys are on the fritz. She can’t remove excess potassium, so the level builds up. Too much can cause an irregular heartbeat and even sudden death. And so, Aunt Pauline was prescribed a low potassium diet, also low in sodium for swelling, without excessive protein for the kidneys again, with her blood glucose levels in mind for diabetes, well controlled on pills.

Aunt Pauline had two low-potassium diet sheets listing what to and what not to eat. Both sheets were a little different and, on my laptop, another sheet from the National Kidney Foundation was a little different still. The lists agreed upon the very high and very low potassium foods, but the middle range was questionable. Cooked cabbage? Maybe yes, maybe no. The same was true for whole wheat bread. Believe me, I know what it’s like to make those lists. The results depend on the makeup of the committee and the time of day.

For breakfast, according to the lists, Pauline could choose oatmeal, puffed rice, a bagel, or white toast. Oatmeal is fine, but every day? What about other cereals? The paper didn’t say. That’s when we had to look at the real numbers and make decisions case-by-case. The rule: be wary of foods with more than 250 mg of potassium per serving. Puffed rice, 6 mg of potassium, 1 mg of sodium (“too bland”); raisin bran, 357 mg of potassium (not an option); yada-yada, try this and that, and then bingo! Rice Krispies, 30 mg of potassium, 190 mg of sodium. That will do. And food-by-food, we went down the list. How much, how often, what’s it worth to you? It’s the only way to get buy-in to the diet therapy.

And, to keep life sweet, we make room for indulgences, also a personal thing.
Mary: “Check it out: Marshmallows have zero potassium and 6 mg of sodium; I’ve seen sugar-free marshmallows made with sugar alcohols. You could make Rice Krispies Treats.”
Aunt Pauline: “Really? I would like that…But what I’d really like is Peeps.”
Mary: “I’ve seen sugar-free Peeps made with sugar alcohols. You can have those too.”
Aunt Pauline: “This diet isn’t so bad after all.”

Sugar-free Peeps save the day, junk food that they are.

Your thoughts: Do you know someone who is confused by his/her medical diet?