Tag Archives: sugar

Munching on Meatloaf

Meatloaf, that old standby, has just acquired a new cachet.  Or has it?

A recent column by Frank Bruni in The New York Times focused on food snobs, in particular their ridicule of Donald Trump’s love of meatloaf.  Weeks earlier, Trump had “forced Chris Christie to follow his lead at a White House lunch and eat meatloaf, which the president praised as his favorite item on the menu.”

According to Bruni, a former restaurant critic, news coverage of the lunch “hinted that Trump wasn’t merely a bully but also a rube.  What grown-up could possibly be so fond of this retro, frumpy dish?”

Bruni’s answer:  “Um, me.  I serve meatloaf at dinner parties.  I devoted a whole cookbook to it.”

Allow me to join forces with Frank Bruni.  Putting aside my general negativity towards all things Trump, I have to admit I’m fond of meatloaf, too.

My recollections of eating meatloaf go back to the dining-room table in our West Rogers Park apartment in the 1950s.  My mother was never an enthusiastic cook.  She prepared meals for us with a minimal degree of joy, no doubt wishing she could spend her time on other pursuits.  It was simply expected of her, as the wife and mother in our mid-century American family, to come up with some sort of breakfast, lunch, and dinner nearly every day.

Breakfasts rarely featured much more than packaged cereal and milk.  I remember putting a dusting of sugar on corn flakes—something I haven’t done since childhood.  Did we add fresh fruit to our cereal?  Not very often.  We might have added raisins.   But fresh fruit, like the abundant blueberries and strawberries we can now purchase all year long, wasn’t available in Chicago grocery stores during our long cold ‘50s winters.  At least not in our income bracket.

Daddy occasionally made breakfast on the weekends.  I remember watching him standing in front of our ‘30s-style mint green enamel-covered stove, whipping up his specialty, onions and eggs, with aplomb.  But those highly-anticipated breakfasts were rare.

[I recently discovered that stoves like that one are still available.  They’re advertised online by a “retro décor lover’s dream resource” in Burbank, as well as on eBay, where an updated model is currently listed for $4,495.]

As for lunch, my public grade school compelled us to walk home for lunch every day.  Only a handful of sub-zero days broke that mold.  Our school had no cafeteria, or even a lunchroom, where kids could eat in frigid weather.  Only on alarmingly cold days were we permitted to bring a lunch from home and eat it in the school auditorium.  If we pleaded convincingly enough, our parents might let us buy greasy hamburgers at Miller’s School Store.

Most days I’d walk home, trudging the six long blocks from school to home and back within an hour. Mom would have lunch waiting for me on our breakfast-room table, mostly sandwiches and the occasional soup.  Mom rarely made her own soup.  She generally opened cans of Campbell’s “vegetable vegetarian,” eschewing canned soups that included any possibility of unknown meat.

Mom’s dinner specialties included iceberg-lettuce salads, cooked veggies and/or potatoes, and a protein of some kind.  Because of her upbringing, she invariably chose fish, poultry, or cuts of meats like ground beef, beef brisket, and lamb chops.

Which brings us to meatloaf.

I must have liked Mom’s meatloaf because I don’t have a single negative memory associated with it.  And when I got married and began preparing meals for my own family, I never hesitated to make meatloaf myself.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to prepare dinner every night.  I was immensely lucky to marry a man who actually enjoyed cooking.  Although I inherited my mother’s reluctance to spend much time in the kitchen, Herb relished preparing elaborate gourmet dishes á la Julia Child—in fact, he often used her cookbook—and proudly presenting them to our daughters and me whenever his schedule allowed.

But when I was the cook, meatloaf was one of my favorite choices.  I’d buy lean ground beef, add breadcrumbs, ketchup, and assorted herbs and spices, mix it all together with my bare hands, and heat the finished product until it was just right.  Aware by then of warnings about high-fat red meat, I’d carefully remove my loaf pan from the oven and scrupulously drain as much fat from the pan as I could.  The result?  A tasty and relatively low-fat dish.  My family loved it.

At some point I discovered the glories of leftover meatloaf.  Chilled in the fridge overnight, it made a toothsome sandwich the next day.  It was especially good on rye bread and loaded with ketchup.  Wrapped in a plastic baggie, it would go from home to wherever I traveled to work, and I had to use my most stalwart powers of self-discipline to wait till lunchtime to bite into its deliciousness.

Those days are sadly over.  I rarely prepare dinner for my family anymore, and my consumption of meat products has gone way down.  Most days, when I reflect on what I’ve eaten, I realize that, more often than not, I’ve unknowingly eaten a wholly vegetarian diet.

I haven’t eaten meatloaf in years.  But hearing about Trump’s penchant for it has awakened my tastebuds.  If I could just get my hands on a tasty low-fat version like the one I used to make, my long meatloaf-drought might finally be over.

Beavers? Seriously?

Here’s a piece of news to chew on. A recent study of beavers’ teeth may lead to decay-resistant teeth for humans.

Although beavers never brush their teeth, and they certainly don’t drink fluoridated water, their teeth are protected from tooth decay by the iron that’s part of the tooth’s chemical structure.

If you looked at a beaver’s teeth, you’d notice that their iron-rich coating gives the teeth a reddish-brown or orange color. Apparently orange is the new white.

Researchers found that the pigmented enamel on beavers’ teeth is both harder and more resistant to acid than human tooth enamel, even when treated with fluoride. This discovery could lead to a better understanding of human tooth decay, as well as improvements in current fluoride treatment.

Tooth decay in humans is a major public health problem, even in this era of fluoride treatments. The American Dental Association estimates that dental care in this country costs $111 billion a year, and much of it is spent on cavities and other tooth-decay issues. According to the World Health Organization, up to 90 percent of children and nearly 100 percent of adults worldwide have or have had cavities.

The research team, led by Derk Joester, an engineering and materials science professor at Northwestern University, discovered that small amounts of an “amorphous solid” rich in iron and magnesium are what make rodent teeth resistant to acid. “[We’ve made a] big step forward in understanding the composition and structure of enamel—the tooth’s protective outer layer…,” said Joester.

Researchers included Jill D. Pasteris, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. She calls their findings a great example of “the structural-chemical novelty [we’re] still discovering in natural, biomineralized materials” like teeth and bone.

Looking at the teeth of beavers and other rodents, the researchers used powerful technology to map the enamel’s structure, atom by atom. They subjected the teeth to acid and took images before and after. The journal Science published this unprecedented imaging study of tooth enamel in February.

Some of the details of the research are pretty technical, but you really should give a dam about the results. Although a beaver’s teeth are chemically different from our teeth, they’re not structurally different, and the results of the study may lead to stronger tooth enamel and better fluoride treatments.

This news is especially encouraging in light of what we’ve just learned about the sugar industry. The industry has for years covered up proof that reducing sugar-consumption prevents tooth decay. The San Francisco Examiner reports that researchers at UC San Francisco have found documents revealing how the industry worked with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to avoid condemning sugar, trying instead to develop alternatives (like a vaccine to prevent tooth decay).

Buried in an archive of industry documents discovered at the University of Illinois was a startling document. It showed that a sugar-industry group acknowledged as early as 1950 that sugar causes tooth decay. But, according to the UCSF researchers, Dr. Cristin Kearns and Laura Schmidt, the sugar industry influenced NIH to steer scientists toward developing alternative approaches to tooth decay instead of focusing on the damage done by sugar consumption. (The study is published this month in the scientific journal PLOS Medicine.)

Does this remind you of the tobacco industry and its efforts to suppress scientific evidence that smoking leads to cancer and other illnesses?

The damage caused by sugar is finally getting attention from scientists, and efforts to cut back on its consumption are gaining ground. Last November, voters in Berkeley imposed a tax on sugary drinks, and a majority of San Francisco voters approved a soda tax (it didn’t become law because it required two-thirds to pass). [My blog post, “Gimme a Little Sugar,” published on 10/2/14, focuses on the damage done by sugary drinks and by sugar in general.]

Three SF supervisors have just renewed their efforts to restrict the consumption of sugary drinks in San Francisco. But even if efforts like these succeed, we’ll still face the problem of tooth decay for years to come. So paying attention to beavers’ teeth may prove helpful.

Let’s snatch victory from the jaws of tooth decay. If we start by Leaving it to Beavers, our descendants may someday sport decay-resistant teeth just like theirs.

Gimme a Little Sugar

As human beings, we’re all programmed to like things that taste sweet. As a June 2012 article in the Journal of Nutrition pointed out, human desire for sweet taste spans all ages, races, and cultures. This may begin with breast milk, universally acknowledged as tasting sweet.

So it’s not surprising that most of us pursue food and drink that taste sweet. The problem today is the low cost and ready availability of sweeteners in our food supply. These have led us to consume more sugar, contributing to the current obesity epidemic.

In San Francisco, voters will decide in November whether the city can levy a “soda tax” of 2-cents-an-ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages. If the measure (Proposition E) passes, SF will become the first city in the nation to impose such a tax. Similar proposals have been defeated elsewhere, but if Prop. E passes, other communities will probably follow suit, so watch what happens in SF.

Prop. E almost didn’t make it onto the ballot. According to Heather Knight at the SF Chronicle, Mayor Ed Lee argued it would be a distraction on a lengthy ballot including other important issues, but it squeaked through the SF Board of Supervisors. It needs, however, more than a majority of voters in November to pass. It has to get two-thirds of the vote because it directs revenue to a specific purpose. This purpose is extremely worthwhile: programs benefiting children’s nutrition and physical education via the public schools, the Recreation and Parks Department, the Public Health Department, and nonprofit organizations.

The SF City Controller’s Office has provided key statistics in this fight. Right now, SF guzzles about 3 billion ounces of soda and other sugary beverages every year, but the city’s chief economist estimates that the tax could reduce consumption as much as 31 percent, and revenue generated by the tax could amount to as much as $54 million a year.

Besides the Board of Supervisors, the measure is supported by the SF school board, a host of PTAs, the teachers union, several medical groups, and local food banks like Project Open Hand, which provides healthy meals to seniors and the critically ill.

Now who in the world would oppose such a proposal? That’s easy: the American Beverage Association (the ABA). It seems that Big Soda is spending big bucks to diminish the possibility of passage. For one thing, it has enlisted opponents who argue that the tax will fall disproportionately on poor people. Most of the tax would be passed on to consumers, raising the retail price between 22 and 36 percent, and conservative SF Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders noted that less-educated and poor populations allocate a “larger proportion of their spending on sugar-sweetened beverages than other groups.” She also noted that the SF supervisors who voted against putting the tax on the ballot are “people of color who represent neighborhoods with many minority voters.” (Heather Knight recently reported that at least one of them has decided to endorse it.)

But aren’t these less-educated and less affluent residents the same people who have traditionally spent more on tobacco products than better-educated, more affluent groups? Yet in 2010 SF banned the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies, big-box stores, and grocery stores in the city. Many other communities have followed SF’s lead, and earlier this year pharmacy chain CVS banned their sale in its stores nationwide. Determined smokers, who need to find tobacco and pay more for it, seem to be getting along just fine.

The latest news makes clear how big a stake Big Soda has in defeating Prop. E. According to Heather Knight’s most recent update, a DC public affairs firm has already received almost a million dollars from the campaign to defeat Prop. E funded by the ABA. The firm produces the noisy commercials blaring on TV and radio in a number of languages. This is the same firm that defeated efforts to curtail consumption of sugary soda in NYC and two small cities in California, and it has already spent $800,000 to defeat a proposed soda tax in Berkeley. A spokeswoman for Yes on E notes that opponents will “stop at nothing to protect their profits…” and predicts they will spend much more before the November election.

My go-to source on all things nutrition-related is Nutrition Action (NA), a newsletter published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). NA has recently made clear how detrimental sugar-sweetened sodas can be. In July/August 2014, it quoted Frank Sacks, professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health: “The data are pretty compelling that we should basically cut out sugar-sweetened beverages.”

JoAnn Manson, director of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, noted “strong evidence [these] beverages lead to weight gain because people [don’t tend to] compensate for liquid calories by reducing calories elsewhere.” But weight gain isn’t the only result. Manson and others tracked about 75,000 nurses and 39,000 health professionals for 22 years and found that those who drank a sugary soft drink at least once a day had about a 30 percent higher risk of diabetes than those who drank one less than once a month.” According to other researchers, including Kimber Stanhope at UC Davis, studies show that a high level of fructose (found in sweeteners like table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup) impairs insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for diabetes.

In September 2014, NA lobbed even more ammunition at sugary beverages, reporting a study showing that sugar-sweetened sodas may raise the risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a disease that causes painful, chronic inflammation of the joints. Researchers who tracked 186,900 women for over 20 years found that those who consumed at least one sugary soda per day had a 63 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with the most common kind of RA than those who consumed less than one per month. Diet-soda drinkers had no higher risk of RA.

Big Soda is beginning to see the handwriting on the wall. Roberto Ferdman reported in the Washington Post in September that the ABA has agreed with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Coke, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper/Snapple to cut the calories in their beverages by 20 percent. How? By promoting smaller portions, as well as zero and low-calorie offerings. Ferdman noted one reason for this concession: soda consumption has been declining in the U.S. for over a decade. But soda is still a big part of the American diet, and 20 percent less sugar isn’t a whole lot.

Ferdman quotes Michael Jacobson, CSPI executive director, who urges the industry to go further than the proposed voluntary measures and drop its opposition to taxes and warning labels on sugary drinks: “We need much bigger and faster reductions [in sugar consumption] to adequately protect the public’s health. Those taxes could further reduce calories in America’s beverage mix even more quickly, and would raise needed revenue for the prevention and treatment of soda-related diseases.”

We all love to consume things that taste sweet. But let’s set some limits. Sugar-laden drinks like regular Coke and Pepsi? No one needs more than one a day, and kids don’t need any. Let’s impose reasonable taxes, add warning labels, and make sure we get our calories in far more nutritious ways.

Sure, gimme a little sugar. But just a little is more than enough.