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Many Food Allergies May Be ‘All in the Mind’

Rubber Ducky #00

‘Why do more people seem to suffer more allergic reactions than in the past?

A new report, commissioned by the federal government, finds the field is rife with poorly done studies, misdiagnoses and tests that can give misleading results.

While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies. And, Dr. Riedl said, about half the patients coming to his clinic because they had been told they had a food allergy did not really have one.

Dr. Riedl does not dismiss the seriousness of some people’s responses to foods. But, he says, “That accounts for a small percentage of what people term ‘food allergies.’ “‘ (New York Times )

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A Winning Formula for Traditional Espresso

A photo of a cup of coffee.

An Italian master barista says you are probably not drinking espresso at all, even if you think you are (in the US): “The biggest mistake I’ve seen is an enormous quantity of coffee being used—way too much. I’m talking about 20 to 25 grams of coffee for a single espresso shot! It is like making a mojito with half a mint leaf, one ice cube, a few grains of sugar, and a gallon of rum. Undrinkable!

Espresso made this way—well, it’s not espresso, but I’ll call it that—turns out overly concentrated, and because of that it cannot delight the drinker with the magnificent aromas of toasted bread, chocolate, red fruit, orange, and jasmine flowers that are all present in a high-quality blend.

The beverages I tasted were almost syrups, full-bodied but with a very sour, almost salty taste. I suspect that beans that were roasted too recently played a part. After roasting, beans need a few days to breathe and mature. These too-young beans are a big problem. Also, I’ve visited too many coffee bars that don’t heat cups before serving, and in the process sacrifice flavor and aroma. Or that serve in wet cups, an espresso sin.

An espresso, a real one, requires seven to eight grams of freshly ground coffee roasted two to three days in advance, or preserved using pressurization. The water can’t be too soft, and must not exceed 200 degrees F to avoid burning, nor be lower than 190 F in order to extract all the best aromatic components.

The grind is also fundamental. A too-fine grind can create burnt coffee and extract unpleasantly bitter and woody flavors. This is why so many people describe espresso’s taste as “bitter.” An overly coarse grind doesn’t permit full extraction of certain key elements. The proper, medium grind permits extraction of one ounce of aromatic black liquid in 25 to 30 seconds, the ideal amount of time.

If all these variables are respected (amount of coffee, temperature, time, and volume), along with the right pressure (around nine atmospheric units or 130 psi), you get an opaque, perfumed liquid containing microscopic oil droplets releasing precious coffee aroma, set fully free on your taste buds.”
(The Atlantic)

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Fasting

Jonah Lehrer: “The irony of fasting is that, although we think we're engaging in act of strict self-control, we're actually making it harder to resist other temptations.” (The Frontal Cortex)

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America’s Food Revolution

Burger with Foie Gras and Onion

“Just try having a dinner party today. You’ll have to contend with perfervid vegans, virtuous vegetarians, persistent pescatarians, lamb-phobics, tongue-phobics, veal-rights advocates, the gluten-intolerant, the lactose-intolerant, the shellfish-intolerant, the peanut-intolerant, the spicy-intolerant, and on and on in an ever-fragmenting array. For God’s sake, don’t serve foie gras; a guest might show up wearing a suicide vest and blow the whole party to kingdom come. All this has a lot to do with the decline of traditional manners and the rise of personal assertiveness and the yuppie belief that we can engineer our own immortality. Food matters so much now that it can make tyrants of our dearest friends and neighbors.” (City Journal)

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The Best Meal On The Planet?

Dans Le Noir translates to English as “In The Dark.” The restaurant is named this for a very good, if on-the-nose, reason: It’s completely, pitch black on the inside. The entire wait staff is completely sightless, and ushers patrons to their tables in completely darkness. The food and drinks are prepared by sighted staff in separate, lit rooms.

But the entire meal is eaten (and all drinks poured – think about that) with no light whatsoever. If you’ve got an Indiglo watch, they take it. All cell phones are confiscated. And don’t even think about going there with LA Lights.

The idea here is to deprive your body of its visual input in order to heighten all the other senses you use to eat: most notably the senses of touch, smell and taste. This means you pour your wine with a finger down the glass, so that you stop when you feel wetness. It also means you don’t know what you’re eating until you’re eating it (and even then, you might not guess).

Although Swiss culinary innovation may seem like a contradiction in terms, the idea of blind dining originated with a blind clergyman from Switzerland, Jorge Spielmann. He wanted diners to be able to better understand his world.”

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Unhappy Meals

Cross-section and full view of a ripe tomato
A 2007 article with some very sensible advice from Michael Pollen (In Defense of Food) concludes: “…[T]ry these few (flagrantly unscientific) rules of thumb, collected in the course of my nutritional odyssey, and see if they don’t at least point us in the right direction.

1. Eat food. Though in our current state of confusion, this is much easier said than done. So try this: Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. (Sorry, but at this point Moms are as confused as the rest of us, which is why we have to go back a couple of generations, to a time before the advent of modern food products.) There are a great many foodlike items in the supermarket your ancestors wouldn’t recognize as food (Go-Gurt? Breakfast-cereal bars? Nondairy creamer?); stay away from these.

2. Avoid even those food products that come bearing health claims. They’re apt to be heavily processed, and the claims are often dubious at best. Don’t forget that margarine, one of the first industrial foods to claim that it was more healthful than the traditional food it replaced, turned out to give people heart attacks. When Kellogg’s can boast about its Healthy Heart Strawberry Vanilla cereal bars, health claims have become hopelessly compromised. (The American Heart Association charges food makers for their endorsement.) Don’t take the silence of the yams as a sign that they have nothing valuable to say about health.

3. Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.None of these characteristics are necessarily harmful in and of themselves, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed.

4. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market; you also won’t find food harvested long ago and far away. What you will find are fresh whole foods picked at the peak of nutritional quality. Precisely the kind of food your great-great-grandmother would have recognized as food.

5. Pay more, eat less. The American food system has for a century devoted its energies and policies to increasing quantity and reducing price, not to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food — measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond) — costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is shameful, but most of us can: Americans spend, on average, less than 10 percent of their income on food, down from 24 percent in 1947, and less than the citizens of any other nation. And those of us who can afford to eat well should. Paying more for food well grown in good soils — whether certified organic or not — will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream, and downwind, of the farms where it is grown.

“Eat less” is the most unwelcome advice of all, but in fact the scientific case for eating a lot less than we currently do is compelling. “Calorie restriction” has repeatedly been shown to slow aging in animals, and many researchers (including Walter Willett, the Harvard epidemiologist) believe it offers the single strongest link between diet and cancer prevention. Food abundance is a problem, but culture has helped here, too, by promoting the idea of moderation. Once one of the longest-lived people on earth, the Okinawans practiced a principle they called “Hara Hachi Bu”: eat until you are 80 percent full. To make the “eat less” message a bit more palatable, consider that quality may have a bearing on quantity: I don’t know about you, but the better the quality of the food I eat, the less of it I need to feel satisfied. All tomatoes are not created equal.

6. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves. Scientists may disagree on what’s so good about plants — the antioxidants? Fiber? Omega-3s? — but they do agree that they’re probably really good for you and certainly can’t hurt. Also, by eating a plant-based diet, you’ll be consuming far fewer calories, since plant foods (except seeds) are typically less “energy dense” than the other things you might eat. Vegetarians are healthier than carnivores, but near vegetarians (“flexitarians”) are as healthy as vegetarians. Thomas Jefferson was on to something when he advised treating meat more as a flavoring than a food.

7. Eat more like the French. Or the Japanese. Or the Italians. Or the Greeks. Confounding factors aside, people who eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally healthier than we are. Any traditional diet will do: if it weren’t a healthy diet, the people who follow it wouldn’t still be around. True, food cultures are embedded in societies and economies and ecologies, and some of them travel better than others: Inuit not so well as Italian. In borrowing from a food culture, pay attention to how a culture eats, as well as to what it eats. In the case of the French paradox, it may not be the dietary nutrients that keep the French healthy (lots of saturated fat and alcohol?!) so much as the dietary habits: small portions, no seconds or snacking, communal meals — and the serious pleasure taken in eating. (Worrying about diet can’t possibly be good for you.) Let culture be your guide, not science.

8. Cook. And if you can, plant a garden. To take part in the intricate and endlessly interesting processes of providing for our sustenance is the surest way to escape the culture of fast food and the values implicit in it: that food should be cheap and easy; that food is fuel and not communion. The culture of the kitchen, as embodied in those enduring traditions we call cuisines, contains more wisdom about diet and health than you are apt to find in any nutrition journal or journalism. Plus, the food you grow yourself contributes to your health long before you sit down to eat it. So you might want to think about putting down this article now and picking up a spatula or hoe.

9. Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases. That of course is an argument from nutritionism, but there is a better one, one that takes a broader view of “health.” Biodiversity in the diet means less monoculture in the fields. What does that have to do with your health? Everything. The vast monocultures that now feed us require tremendous amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep from collapsing. Diversifying those fields will mean fewer chemicals, healthier soils, healthier plants and animals and, in turn, healthier people. It’s all connected, which is another way of saying that your health isn’t bordered by your body and that what’s good for the soil is probably good for you, too.” (New York Times Magazine)