‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: shut your pie hole or, in this case: put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Make a Meal Out of a Mealworm

Entomophagy. New word? Entomon, the Greek word for 'insect', and phagein 'to eat'. Guessed yet? It's the consumption of insects as food and yep, it's a thing... A big thing. Before you let it bug you into crinkling your face in disgust, let's critically consider these crispy critters and their candy coated shells. It certainly brings new meaning to the term 'moth balls'.

Table 1: Commonly eaten bugs
First off, humans eating insects dates back thousands of years, with over 1,400 species recorded as human food (see Table 1 for commonly eaten species). That's right folks, you want to talk caveman and paleo? Bet you hadn't considered glazed grasshoppers or braised beetles.

Entomophagy is heavily influenced by religion and culture. Sadly, western culture views it with a poor understanding as 'disgusting' and sees it as primitive... Kind of an oxymoron with all the proponents (I wanted to use the word 'morons') of the paleo diet - which is, in and of itself, meant to be 'primitive'. But I digress.

Since we're all about nutrition, let's start off with a side of centipede soup. Bugs, insects, whatever you want to call them are highly nutritious: Many species contain as much or more protein than meat and fish (see Table 2). They are good sources of iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins A, D, E and some B vitamins (see Table 3 and 4). They also contain fiber in the form of chitin (pronounced ky-tin) from their exoskeletons. Bessie the Cow, Turkey Lurkey, Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey and Mrs. Poppy Puff (the pufferfish from Spongebob) contain no fiber. Crispy cricket casserole anyone?

Table 2: Comparison of calories, protein and fat
Table 3: Comparison of iron in beef vs insect.        Table 4: Comparison of zinc in beef vs insect
Here's another interesting angle, ethical vegetarians and vegans often say they don't eat meat because cows, for example, have a cute face and a personality. Maybe those of us who can't reconcile BBQ-ing a chunk of Bessie the Cow are amenable to chowing down on Jiminy Cricket.

Since we are coming off the holiday Passover, just imagine if Pharoah had loved lice and locust loaf, or perhaps chocolate lice cream... He could have eliminated two out of the ten plagues then and there.

Next up is another topic near and dear to my heart: The environment and sustainability. Insect 'rearing' has far fewer negative environmental impacts than raising cattle, pigs, chickens, etc. Per kilogram of mass gain, insects produce very few greenhouse gas emissions and ammonia (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Comparison of GHG emissions and ammonia

Insects also boast exceptional rates of reproduction and fecundity, they reach maturation quickly, don't require much land (goodbye land clearing, grazing and trampling), and because they are ectothermic (cold blooded) they are extremely efficient at converting food to protein. Crickets, for example, need 12 x less feed than cattle, 4 x less than sheep, and half as much as pigs and chicken to produce the same amount of protein. Change up your crispy skin chicken for crispy shell chapulines (grasshoppers).

There is so much fascinating information about entomophagy that I could literally write 5 more articles, not break a sweat and still not cover everything. Let me leave you with these predictions:
  • In the future, Paula Deen's catch phrase "everything's better with butter" becomes "everything's better with butterflies"
  • The phrase "don't let the bed bugs bite" becomes "bed bugs bites are a mighty fine pre-bedtime snack" 
  • Lastly, don't knock it till you've tried it

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Rules Are... There Ain't No Rules

When it comes to food and 'diets', everyone thinks they're an expert. We all eat food, right? So therefore we all must be food experts...? Well, I drive a car every day, does that make me a qualified mechanic? Would you take my advice for fixing your car? I certainly wouldn't. So why do we let unqualified 'health professionals' peddling preposterous pea-brain piffle, tell us what to put in our pie holes? No holds barred today, we're talking all manner of diets, rules and food.

We've all heard 'grazing' on smaller meals is better than eating fewer large meals because it 'boosts' or 'revs up' our metabolism. A new study found:
  • No difference in energy expenditure/metabolism when subjects ate five small meals vs two larger meals (same total calories)
  • It's about total calories eaten, not the time of day they're eaten... It's personal preference, you don't want to be around me if I'm not fed. Two meals? No thanks
Now, we can't have an article that doesn't spruik the benefits of vegetables. These include, but are by no means limited to: reducing inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol and a myriad of chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Here's the bottom line from a new study:
  • Seven serves of fruit and veg per day = less death, less cancer, better heart health
  • Australia's got this covered - Go for 2 and 5 serves of F&V each day
    • 1/2 cup of cooked F&V or 1 cup raw is a serve
    • Sorry America, you only recommend 5 serves total... And your website is bloody confusing
Source: http://www.healthytogethermildura.com.au/what-is-a-serve
Another new study compared the benefits of many different diets including low fat, low carb, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean and paleo (shudder). Here's the abridged version:
  • Injudicious diets are a leading cause of premature death and chronic disease
  • Low carb diets have no global definition
    • They generally restrict calories, hence weight loss
    • If they're not restrictive, protein is upped to compensate for the carb reduction, research shows this increases adverse metabolic effects
  • Low fat or vegetarian diets are generally <20% of calories from fat
    • Usually plant based, which reduces cancer risk and cardiometabolic disease (thumbs up)
    • On the flip-side, calories often increase because low fat foods compensate with bonus starch/sugar
    • No definitive research shows a low fat diet is better than a diet higher in healthy fat (think Mediterranean)
  •  Vegetarian diets don't = healthy (same goes for vegan)
    • Very restrictive vegetarian/vegan diets often lead to suboptimal nutrition and micronutrient deficiency (AKA no different to a crap western diet)
  • Mediterranean - tons of research shows it's great (here's a whole article)
  • Paleo (argggh) is all about plant based foods but excludes dairy/carbs/processed foods (like a caveman)
    • Great, until you realise most of the plants and all of the animals caveman ate are extinct...
    • Caveman also hunted for food, vastly different from sitting in your comfy minivan all the way to the supermarket
    • Today, our fiber intake is whoppingly low and our ratios of omega 3 vs omega 6 fats and potassium vs sodium are greatly different from caveman
  • Mixed/balanced diets combine plant and animal foods
    • For those of us who aren't already on some wacky gluten-free, sugar-free, low carb, low fat, high protein, paleo, miracle unicorn urine diet, this diet is one that contains familiar and accessible foods without any obnoxious dietary dogma
What did we learn? Eat food; mostly vegetables and fruits, portion control for grains, dairy and meat, enjoy sweets and treats... Don't over-think it, it's not rocket surgery. Seriously.

An amalgamation of popular diets. Adapted from: Can we say what diet is best for health? Annual Review of Public Health.    Vol 35: 83-103 D. Katz and S. Meller
Lastly, for another great read, check out the always-entertaining Associate Professor Tim Crowe's thoughts on this topic here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Choc-It-Up To Chocolate

Chocolate's been all the rage in the news lately. Finally! Something positive to read and write about. It's delicious, it has health benefits and better, it's got evidence to support them. We've hit the trifecta!

Chocolate is made from cocoa beans and contains protein, fat, iron, caffeine, antioxidants, sugar and a few other things. Certain compounds in chocolate are protective against illnesses like cancer and heart disease. And as if you needed more good news, but in case you did: There's no evidence linking chocolate consumption to acne.

Chocolate is high in flavonoids, in particular, 'catechins' and 'anthocyanins' which promote health due to their antioxidant, anti-hypertensive and anti-inflammatory effects. Those flavonoids/antioxidants also influence insulin sensitivity and vascular endothelial (heart tissue) function. See, I can write an article that doesn't bash antioxidants.

So what's the recent hype about? New findings show stomach bacteria 'eat' and ferment dark chocolate causing a release in anti-inflammatory compounds. These compounds, when absorbed, benefit the heart by lessening the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue which reduces long-term risk of stroke. Basically, it's another reason not to hate on bacteria.

People worry about chocolate being 'fattening', which, I think, means they're worried about chocolate making them fat. It's true, chocolate is 30-45% fat, and we all know saturated fat increases blood cholesterol which is a factor in heart disease and other chronic illnesses. BUT, almost half the saturated fat in chocolate is stearic acid - a fat that doesn't appear to effect blood cholesterol levels. Not too flabby... I mean, shabby!

Back to chocolate being 'fattening', new research shows people who consumed higher amounts of chocolate actually had lower levels of central body fat, independent of diet and exercise. Some people may think that's counterintuative, but if the science says so, take it and run!

Another study, the largest and best controlled chocolate study that focuses on adolescents, demonstrated the above health effects in 1,500 12-17 year olds. The results were independent of age, sex, sexual maturation, physical activity and consumption of foods also high in catechins like tea, coffee, fruits and vegetables.

Yet another study found that in young adults, 8 grams/day of dark (70%) cocoa for 1 month improved their endothelial function, compared to those in the placebo group.

But wait, before we all run to the vending machine for a chocolate bar, too much of this good thing isn't great either. Not all chocolate is created equal: Dark chocolate is much higher in protective catechins compared to white chocolate (which, let's be honest, isn't really chocolate) and even milk chocolate. That's because dark chocolate has a higher concentration of cocoa solids (see Figure 1).
Fig 1: Comparison of chocolate type, antioxidant level and % cocoa.
Source: http://www.med.umich.edu/umim/food-pyramid/dark_chocolate.htm

Following that line of logic, dark chocolate (>60% cocoa) is the best option antioxidant-wise (and, if you ask me, taste-wise too). After all, once you go black...

Something else to think about is cocoa powder. It tends to have a substantially lower sugar and fat content compared to bar chocolate.

Lastly, some tantilising tempered take home tips:
  • Chocolate (the dark and cocoa varieties) are rich in beneficial antioxidants
  • Chocolate is still high in fat/calories compared with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and tea that also boast opulent antioxidant levels
  • If you're making brownies, having a hot chocolate or adding some flavour to your smoothie, use straight cocoa powder rather than the sugared-up versions like Ovaltine, Swiss Miss and Nestle (not to name names or anything)
  • Don't write articles about chocolate... constantly thinking and reading about the stuff can't be good for your health