Friday Food News

You can count on food being in the news every day.  Sometimes confusing, always amusing.  Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading this week.

salt - Tim Sackton

via Wall Street Journal, NBC News, HealthDay

The news about salt took a dramatic turn this week when a new study suggested that cutting back on sodium too much can actually be harmful. This global research (called PURE for Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology studies) published in the New England Journal of Medicine tracked more than 100,000 people from 18 countries over an average of three years. Those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a 27% higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.  So it’s bad to have too much and too little.

The American Heart Association objected to the findings, and here’s a response statement from Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which points out several flaws in the study:

The results of the PURE studies (by O’Donnell et al. and Mente et al.) should not change advice by health authorities—American Heart Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and others—to consume less salt to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Suzanne Oparil, a cardiologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who wrote the editorial accompanying the research said:

“My personal bias is that there are so many more important things we could do.  A diet that reduces sugar drinks and approaches the Mediterranean diet will give you more benefit than regulating the salt aspect of the diet.”

Maybe that’s true. Although I’m concerned that the public is going to be more confused that ever.  I don’t want salt to be the new saturated fat.  Just like some people may think that butter is actually good for you now, I’m worried that they’ll interpret these headlines as a green light to pour on the salt. It’s time we don’t focus on one nutrient at a time, but consider the total diet.

Here’s a video from the New England Journal of Medicine explaining the three new salt studies published in the August 14 issue.

via New York Times

I love this new Times Chronicle tool for measuring food trends — which looks at how often terms are used in the pages of The New York Times. Writer Neil Irwin uses the example of fried calamari to demonstrate the trend tracking.  ”Fried calamari made a voyage that dozens of foods have made over the years: They start out being served in forward-thinking, innovative restaurants in New York and other capitals of gastronomy. Over time, they become more and more mainstream, becoming a cliche on big-city menus, showing up in high-end restaurants in smaller cities, and eventually finding their way to neighborhood bistros in the hinterlands and chain restaurants across the country.”  Fried calamari began its rise to mass popularity in 1980. The term peaked in 1996, mentioned in 56 articles, and has come down significantly since then.  Irwin used this method to look at other foods, including sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, crab cakes and hummus — all rarely mentioned before 1980.


via The New York Times

In an analysis of food trends from the New York Times archives, pizza took the top spot as the nation’s most preferred casual comfort food. In the 1950s, pizza started to gain attention nationwide, and by the 1980s it surpassed the hamburger in the number of food mentions in the newspaper.


via Wall Street Journal

Just as kale was transformed from an unappealing garnish to main menu item, chefs are looking for unlikely and usually tossed-out ingredients to become the next hot trend. Jonathan Wu, chef and partner at Fung Tu in New York City, saves broccoli stalks from the compost pile by slicing and serving them with beef and oyster sauce while Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy uses beet, celery and carrot greens in stir-fries, pestos and pies.

via Bloomberg BusinessWeek 

The popularity of superfoods continues to soar as more consumers believe that nutritious foods can not only improve their overall health but can even replace modern medicine, according to a Nielsen survey. “Consumers are proactively using food to address their health issues,” said Nielsen’s Sherry Frey. ”I believe we’ll continue to see this grow. The aging boomer demographic and millennials are interested in health claims and fortified foods.”

chimp food

via Food Navigator

Here’s a fun bunch of food and beverage entrepreneurs — an interesting array of marketers who have created Chimp Food (‘walk like a man, eat like a chimp’), coffee four, egg white chimps, artichoke water, hybrid burgers and kids’  tea.

via Serious Eats

Nearly every major U.S. city now boasts Korean cuisine, from traditional barbecue to the arrival of kimchi and bulgogi on myriad menus. While immigration influenced the rise of Chinese and Japanese fare in the U.S., Korean food has only recently played catch up, partially because of a lack of Korean chef-run eateries. “We didn’t have many Korean chef-run restaurants until five years ago,” said chef Hooni Kim of New York’s Danji and Hanjan. “Chef-owned restaurants are the key to growing a cuisine. [Japanese chefs] taught Americans what real sushi was.”

via Eater

More evidence of the Korean craze is the success of Chef Roy Choi, who started the food truck phenomenon with his widely successful Korean BBQ Kogi truck.  Coming off of the recent opening of his new restaurant in LA,  Roy Choi announced he is filming a new show for CNN. Based on various tweets, it appears the show will be named Street Food.


Global launches of popcorn snacks grew more than 8% in the year ending in June, thanks to brands promoting the snack as healthier and less-processed than other bagged snacks, according to Innova Market Insights. The U.S. market accounted for more than 20% of new popcorn products, but complex flavors are becoming more popular in Europe where gourmet popcorn is starting to infiltrate the snack market.

via USA Today

USA WEEKEND asks experts: How will Americans be eating in five years? The article calls out four trends about the future of food; creating healthy food that is also delicious, farm-to-table trickle down, increased marketing for fresh foods and the end of the dieting culture.

via Food Navigator ,

When you read a nutrition label, you expect the information to be correct.  Consumers demand it, FDA requires it.  So that’s why Whole Foods is in some hot water — hit by class action lawsuits over the labels on its 365 Everyday Value yogurts.  The labels declare just 2 grams of sugar per serving, yet Consumer Reports found that the amount is actually 11.4 grams.  Someone’s got some explaining to do.


images:  salt by TimSackton, fried calamari by Jules Morgan



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Friday Food News

Hello Friday. TGIF.  Another end of the week, another seven days full of food news.  Here’s what I’ve been reading.  How about you?


via FDAUSA Today,  LA Times

New federal rules defining the use of the term “gluten free” on packaged foods took effect on August 5.  The FDA regulations  are intended to help the 3 million Americans — a little less than 1% of the population — who have celiac disease. “This standard ‘gluten-free’ definition will eliminate uncertainty about how food producers label their products and will assure people with celiac disease that foods labeled ‘gluten-free’ meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA,” said  Felicia Billingslea, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.  Now, a packaged food labeled gluten free (or similar claims such as “free of gluten”) cannot contain more than 20 parts per million of gluten. Keep in mind, this is only for packaged food on the shelf (not meat and poultry that’s regulated by USDA) and the use of the gluten-free label is voluntary; there’s no requirement for foods containing gluten to declare that on the label.

via Wall Street Journal

Reporter Annie Gasparro has written an extensive article on the biotechnology debate, including consumer skepticism and industry response. Two decades after the first genetically engineered seeds were sold commercially in the U.S., genetically modified organisms—the crops grown from such seeds—are the norm in the American diet, used to make ingredients in about 80% of packaged food, according to industry estimates.  Now an intensifying campaign, spearheaded by consumer and environmental advocacy groups like Green America, is causing a small but growing number of mainstream food makers to jettison genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.  ”Non-GMO” is one of the fastest-growing label trends on U.S. food packages, with sales of such items growing 28% last year to about $3 billion, according to market-research firm Nielsen. In a poll of nearly 1,200 U.S. consumers for The Wall Street Journal, Nielsen found that 61% of consumers had heard of GMOs and nearly half of those people said they avoid eating them. The biggest reason was because it “doesn’t sound like something I should eat.”


via Time HealthDay News

A new study published online at Neurology linked low vitamin D levels with a higher risk of dementia. The international team of researchers spent six years looking at 1,658 Americans, aged 65 or older, who at the start of the study had not suffered from dementia, cardiovascular disease or a stroke.  The team found that adults who were moderately deficient in vitamin D were 53% more likely to develop a form of dementia; those with a severe deficiency were 125% more likely to be stricken with the disease.

14232013504_3b94b9faf6_zSLIM BY DESIGN REGISTRY
via Brian Wansink

Brian Wansink and his colleagues at Cornell have launched a Slim by Design Registry to track people who are slim and have found ways to stay slim.  I tweeted about this yesterday and it caused a ruckus — some people thought it was offensive and sneaky to “trick” your family into being slim.  Dr. Wansink says it’s simply about habits that promote a healthy weight — like the illustration above.   What do you think?  Here’s a description:

The purpose of this Registry is to discover and to share these secrets in a way that can help slim people stay slim, help their family become slim, and can help the rest of us to slim down by learning some of the secrets and rules of thumb they’ve come to adopt over the years.There are huge numbers of slim people. But here’s what’s interesting: If you ask slim people what makes them slim by design, they can’t tell you. Their Slim by Design habits have become so natural, they don’t even realize that they scout out the buffet before they pick up a plate or that they serve food from the stove instead of putting it on the table “family style.”

A number of years ago, researchers founded a National Registry called the National Weight Loss Registry. The concept was simple. If you had lost 30 lbs and kept it off for 3 years, you could join the Registry. It gave hundreds of thousands of people insights into how to take weight off and keep it off. But there’s something important that’s missing – there are huge numbers of people who are skinny and don’t really seem to try. Correction: they seem to have simple rules of thumb, principles, or benchmarks that lead them to take less, order less, or eat less.

Here’s Dr. Wansink explaining the new Registry:

via The Atlantic online
Lots going on with Brian Wansink.  In another study, he says a simple redesign of menus can encourage diners to choose healthier dishes. Use graphics, colors and creative fonts to highlight vegetable and whole grain dishes and put items at the top and bottom of columns to boost sales.

via Food Navigator    The Wall Street Journal

Do you frequently eat by yourself?  You’re not alone. Or, I guess you are alone.  More than half of all eating and drinking occasions now occur when people are alone, according to the market research firm The NPD Group.  U.S. consumers eat breakfast alone 60% of the time and dine on a solitary lunch 55% of the time.  Much of this is due to busy schedules and more people living alone (highest level of single-person households in U.S. history), but NPD says we’re also becoming more individualized in our consumption behavior.

via Bloomberg Businessweek

A Nielsen study finds that 91% of people are daily snackers, and that 17% are snacking more this year than last. It’s a matter of differences between the sexes, too: Women prefer chocolate, candy or cookies, while men are more likely to go for chips or pretzels.

via New York Post

Dominique Ansel, the pastry chef responsible for the Cronut, shifted attention to frozen desserts with his latest creation, “Pop It! Ice Cream Sundae in a Can.” The ice cream treat is a collaboration with fashion designer Lisa Perry and will be sold from a food truck in East Hampton, N.Y. on Saturday while supplies last.

via NPR

Grandson of the inventor of Doritos and CIA graduate Tim West wants to shed his snack food past and pave the way for healthy, affordable fare in the heart of San Francisco. West recently operated a pop-up beans-and-veggie restaurant called Cool Beans and plans to open a permanent sustainable, health-focused restaurant by the end of the year.

via NPR

The U.S. wastes 40% of its food which costs America’s economy an estimated $165 billion a year. New York-based app developer PareUp aims to help reduce this number by letting users connect with restaurants and grocery stores to buy excess product before it’s thrown out. Using the app’s platform, food retailers can showcase inventory and indicate excess items together with a discounted price and time when they’ll be ready for sale. People using PareUp can then call dibs and get up to 50% off items for sale. The app’s online marketplace is set to launch in early August and the mobile app will be available on Apple Store by mid-September.

via Crain’s New York

FreshDirect and Foodily unveiled a new recipe-delivery service called Popcart that will let shoppers order ingredients from specific recipes. “What we really aim to do with this is to deliver a completely new experience for consumers, where they can move from a recipe that inspires them to the actual ingredients to make it in a 24-hour period,” Foodily CEO Andrea Cutright said.


Images: crackers by Anant Nath Sharma, milk by Rubert Ganzer, family rituals by Brian Wansink

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Eat Like A Portuguese

I recently returned from vacation in Portugal.  It was a wonderful trip visiting with family in Cascais, a beautiful sea-side town outside of Lisbon. We spent a lot of time on the beach, shopping, touring castles, and eating.  Oh, the food was good!  And the Portuguese are quite proud of their food.  They truly enjoy eating, too.  No dieting here, as illustrated by this bag I spotted in a boutique in Lisbon.  Most people also appeared to be at a healthy weight.  They’re on to something, I think.


Portugal is known for its pastries, and the most popular of all is Pasteis de Nata.  These are luscious Portuguese custard tarts made with flaky puff pastry and baked until the top is distinctly brown.  Here’s how Portugal Daily View described the pastries:

A few years ago, Killian Fox, from “The Observer”, roamed the globe with a few top experts in world cuisine in search of the best delicacies. And guess what? Among 50 other best things to eat, the pastéis de Belém were listed in 15th place with this description: “Creamy, flaky custard tarts – served warm with cinnamon – are one of Portugal’s great culinary gifts to the world.”

Like many of the pastries, these tarts were perfectly portioned so you weren’t eating a super-sized sweet.  People were satisfied with just one, and they’re commonly eaten in the morning with coffee.  You can find a recipe for Pasteis de Nata at Leite’s Culinaria.


During our trip, we visiting a pastry shop called Pasteis de Belem that first created the custard tarts over 100 years ago and it’s still the most famous place to enjoy these treats.


The lines were long and the place was bustling, but I was determined to get a taste of the pastries fresh out of the oven.  I loved David Leite’s description of his visit, “In Search of a Portuguese Legend.”

Nearby is a pastry shop called the Antiga Confeitaria de Belém, home to what is arguably the Holy Grail of Portuguese sweets: pastéis de Belém, the recipe for which has been a secret for centuries.  This adoration of the pastéis is easy to understand after you’ve  taken a bite. The confection’s shell is made from massa folhada,  Portugal’s equivalent to France’s puff pastry. It spirals up, creating a nest of  hundreds of crisp layers. Inside is a luscious, warm custard.

The proximity of the monastery to the bakery is no accident. Until the 19th  century, monasteries were Portugal’s research, trade, horticultural, and  confectionary epicenters, around which rose small businesses. Originally, lay  bakers made the pastéis behind the Jerónimos walls and sold them to the  public. A revolution in the early 1800s shuttered the monasteries, which gave  Domingo Rafael Alves, an enterprising Portuguese from Brazil, the opportunity to  buy the recipe from a desperate out-of-work baker. In 1837, production of the pastéis resumed in Alves’ nearby sundries shop, and soon he scuttled  the rest of his inventory to specialize in them.

“It’s still the same recipe,” said Pedro Clarinha, current owner of the  confeitaria and a descendant of Alves. “Only three people in the world know  it.”

Security is tight at Antigua Confeitaria. Master bakers make the custard and  dough in a locked room, and not even the women who sit a few feet away tucking  spirals of dough into small, flared baking tins know what goes on in that room…Clarinha’s family registered the name in 1911 to assure that only  pastries that come out their ovens can be called pastéis de Belém. Generic, and  often anemic, imitations can be had elsewhere under the name pastéis de  nata, custard pastries.

Read more from David Leite.

Another traditional and signature Portuguese pastry is called Queijadas, made famous in the picturesque mountain town of  Sintra, which we visited on one of the days of our trip.  Queijadas start with a thin and flaky crust, which is then filled with a mixture of flour, sugar, egg yolk, fresh cheese (quejio fresco) and cinnamon. If you’re interested in making at home, check out this recipe or this recipe.


I loved these pastries because they were not overly sweet.


The name of these pastries comes from its shape, similar to a travesseiro (pillow in English). They are made of puff pastry filled with an egg and almond cream, sprinkled with sugar.


It was cherry season during our visit — so we saw lots of fresh cherries, which was a common dessert after dinner (another healthy habit — having fruit for dessert). Portugal is also famous for a liqueor made from sour cherries called ginja, which is sold in a variety of decorative bottles (heavily promoted to tourists) and served as a shot in a chocolate shot glass.  Lupini beans were a popular snack with a drink before dinner. I became hooked on these legumes – which are also frequently eaten in Italy and the Middle East.  And of course, the pastries and bread were amazing.

PicMonkey Collage Portugal

Throughout the trip, we enjoyed lots of seafood, including fresh sardines — something Portugal is known for. Since we stayed in a town by the coast, of course seafood is plentiful.  But throughout Portugal, there’s a lot more seafood eaten than in the U.S.  The Portuguese have no trouble meeting the seafood twice-a-week guideline — something that’s still a struggle for most Americans.

PicMonkey Collage FISH

I also tried barnacles. Not sure I want to seek out these sea creatures (arthropods) any time soon, although they’re quite the delicacy. Related to crabs and lobsters, barnacles are known for attaching themselves to ships and other structures in the ocean.  I first learned about them in Australia, and got to try them again in Portugal.


It seems Portuguese food is going to be having its moment.  New York chef George Mendes will soon be publishing a cookbook called My Portugal, which looks fantastic.  So expect to be hearing more about Portuguese food in the future.

I’m sure grateful I got to experience it first hand.







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Friday Food News

Once again, I’m back with my weekly recap of the major food stories of the week — or at least what I’ve been reading.

American Society for Nutrition issued a scientific statement on processed foods that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  The paper, “Processed Foods: Contributions to Nutrition,” has stirred up quite the debate.  I’m a firm believer that “processed” isn’t necessarily bad, and I think it helps to provide guidance on how to evaluate prepackaged, prepared foods.  Yet, this statement seemed to hit nerve. The paper redefines processing to mean “the alteration of foods from the state in which they are harvested or raised to better preserve them and feed consumers.” So foods that have been washed, packaged, or frozen—like frozen strawberries or chopped-up lettuce—would qualify as processed. Critics say ASN is backed by manufacturers of processed foods and the new delineation is simply industry propaganda. ASN says it’s time for critics to accept that processed foods make up an important part of the American diet.  Here’s a look at some of the coverage:

Nutritionists Pan ASN Processed Food Statement via MedPage Today
Processed Feud: How the Food Industry Shapes Nutrition via Huffington Post


via Wall Street Journal

The term superfood entered our dining vocabulary nearly 15 years ago but Phil Hagen, a preventive-medicine specialist, said the label is often used as a marketing term to sell a product
and isn’t always an indicator of the food’s nutritious properties. Instead, Hagen suggests that health-conscious consumers eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense food from legumes and nuts to chard and strawberries.

via New York Times

Michael Moss provides an entertaining look at coconut water, including how the marketing has changed and the claims softened.



via Center for Science in the Public Interest

CSPI issued a new Xtreme Eating Awards (for the most fattening restaurant food), and the Cheesecake Factory takes 3 out of 9 spots.  Ouch.

yelp trends

via Eater via Yelp

I love this new data tool from Yelp that graphs the popularity of trends over time. The new feature called Yelp Trends searches the words used in Yelp reviews since 2004 to show users what’s hot and top trend-setting cities. Users can compare trends, foods and data by city.  According to the Yelp blog:  From food trends to popular slang to short-lived beauty fads (Brazilian blowout anyone?), Yelp Trends searches through words used in Yelp reviews to show you what’s hot and reveals the trend-setting cities that kicked it all off. Our massive wealth of data and the high quality reviews contributed by the Yelp community are what allow us to surface consumer trends and behavior based on ten years of experiences shared by locals around the world. For example, are San Franciscans still sipping PBR or craving craft beer? Is the CrossFit fad still going strong or losing steam? Are Londoners loving bob hairstyles or feeling more fringe (that’s bangs, for you Americans) these days? And every city has its favorite food trucks now, but where did this meals-on-wheels phenomenon first take off?

via Vox

Food scientists and market researchers partner with corporate food manufacturers such as Kraft and Whole Foods to introduce diners and shoppers to the next big culinary trend, whether it be the indulgent Frappuccino or nutritious, leafy kale. “We see our role as translating trends,” said food science expert Barb Stuckey. “We are putting ideas in front of consumers that are both appropriate and challenging. We’re here to test that line.”

images: canned meat by Tracy O’Connor on flickr, acai berries by CIFOR , cheesecake factory by CliffMuller

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Is ‘Eat Less’ the Right Message?

single lettuce leaf on a plate



It’s the dieter’s mantra: eat less and move more.  While it’s hard to argue with the idea of moving more –after all, a recent study found that our sedentary lifestyle is more to blame than our calorie intake for the country’s increase in obesity over the last 20 years.

So, the idea to “move more” is a good thing, but what about “eat less”?    That’s the question I poised in my most recent blog post for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition.

Most people who are trying to lose weight begin by cutting down on portions.  They try to eat less by putting less food on their plate.  That may seem logical, but it’s not necessarily the best approach – especially for keeping off the weight.

If you begin a restrictive regimen, your stomach has a hard time adjusting to the fact that you’re feeding it less than you once did.  Constantly feeling famished often turns into regretted eating.  So you may just end up sabotaging yourself.

Instead of eating less you want to try to eat more.  You can enjoy satisfying portions of foods if you factor in what’s known as “energy density.”

Energy density looks at the amount of calories (or energy) in a specific weight of food, such as calories per gram.  The goal is to eat more foods with low energy density, which tend to be either high in water, or contain lots of fiber or little fat.  Low-energy dense foods include fruits, vegetables, salads and broth-based soups. Eating more of these foods can help keep you satisfied and full while lowering your daily calories – without you even realizing it.

Certainly portion control is important for weight management, but urging people simply to ‘eat less’ of all foods may not be the best approach, concludes Penn State’s Barbara Rolls in a new review of obesity studies in the International Journal of Obesity.  She says “a more effective strategy may be to encourage people to increase the proportion of foods low in energy density in their diets while limiting portions of high-energy-dense foods. If people lower the energy density of their diet, they can eat satisfying portions while managing their body weight.”

That means filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, finding ways to incorporate more vegetables into your entrees, starting your meal with a leafy green salad, and eating more broth-based soups.  The idea is to keep your plate looking full so your stomach gets that comfortable feeling, without feeling deprived.  You want to aim for high volume, low energy density.

We do know if you fill your plate with food that you’ll probably finish it.  A new Cornell University study published in the International Journal of Obesity shows that we’re likely to eat 92% of what’s on our plate. “If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach,” says co-author Brian Wansink.

Just knowing that you’re likely to consume almost all of what you serve yourself can help you be more mindful of appropriate portion size. Next time you grab that serving spoon, think to yourself, “How much do I want to eat?” and serve accordingly.

Wansink has conducted previous studies suggesting that we’re likely to eat less if we choose a smaller plate.  It makes sense.  If you have a 10-inch plate, instead of 12-inch or larger (a typical dinner plate), then you’ll fill it up with less food.

Although a new study published in the journal Appetite found that plate size had no significant effect on total calories of the meal. However, the participants in the study who used a large plate served themselves more vegetables.  The authors conclude that reducing the plate size does not seem to be an appropriate intervention to reduce calories to promote weight loss.  Instead, they say using a large plate might be a simple and inexpensive strategy to increase vegetable consumption.

I’m for that. Don’t focus on simply eating less of all foods.  Factor in energy density, and fill up on high-volume fruits and vegetables at every meal.  Plus, keep up the idea of moving more.


Image:  lettuce on plate by viveraehealth1 on flickr

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