Showing posts with label food science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label food science. Show all posts

Thursday, May 14, 2015

GIVEAWAY! Grain of Truth by Stephen Yafa


Title: Stephen Yafa
Author: Stephen Yafa
Publisher: Avery
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Source: copy received from the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

No topic in nutrition is more controversial than wheat. While mega-sellers like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly suggest that wheat may be the new asbestos, Stephen Yafa finds that it has been wrongly demonized. His revealing book sets the record straight, breaking down the botany of the wheat plant we’ve hijacked for our own use, the science of nutrition and digestion, the effects of mass production on our health, and questions about gluten and fiber— all to point us towards a better, richer diet.

Wheat may be the most important food in human history, reaching from ancient times to General Mills. Yafa tours commercial factories where the needs of mass production trump the primacy of nutrition, and reports on the artisan grain revolution. From a Woodstock-like Kneading Conference to nutrition labs to a boutique bakery and pasta maker’s workshop in Brooklyn, he also finds that there may in fact be a perfect source of wheat-based nutrition. Its name is sourdough.

For readers of Salt Sugar Fat and The Omnivore's DilemmaGrain of Truth smoothly blends science, history, biology, economics, and nutrition to give us back our daily bread.


My Review:

This book was of interest to me because, of course, I am a bit of a food science nerd.  However, I also have several friends who are gluten sensitive and/or have celiac disease, so my curiosity was heightened more than usual.  I often get annoyed by people who go gluten-free without having any particular health reason to do so, but more because they are following the latest diet fad.  Doesn't this make things a little harder for the people who actually can't eat gluten, but are now taken less seriously because of all the bandwagon jumpers?  (I have heard a counterpoint to this though, I believe from Heather at Capricious Reader--that it makes life easier for celiacs, because there are more gluten-free options now, given heightened demand.  So I suppose it could go either way.)  Anyway, as soon as I read the description for Stephen Yafa's journalistic approach to this topic, I knew I had to give it a go.

First, I really enjoyed Yafa's lighthearted tone throughout the book.  He obviously did a lot of well-rounded, in-depth research for this project, but his voice has a levity that will keep readers engaged.  Everybody likes a well-timed bread joke, right?  Yafa's more casual, personable tone makes his narrative stand out from that of other food science writers (ie. Michael Pollan (not that I don't think you are personable or funny, Michael Pollan, you know I am a groupie for life)).

Yafa does begin the book by exploring the trend towards gluten-free--who is doing it because they need to, and who is doing it because it just seems healthier.  From there, he gets to the real meat of it (wheat of it?)--is an avoidance of gluten really going to make you healthier?  And while people with celiac really must avoid wheat at all costs, is there anything that people with gluten sensitivity (less serious than celiac) can do to incorporate wheat into their diets safely?

Yafa's findings are extremely interesting.  I won't go through all the conclusions here (I'll make you read the book, of course!), but he uncovered a lot of scientific studies about gluten sensitivity that could be real game-changers in the gluten-free movement in the coming years.  I'll give a warning that some of the heavily scientific chapters towards the middle can get a tad dry, making my head spin with all the talk of proteases and amino acids and microbiomes.  That said, it's all good information--just not the type of reading I would do if you're not prepared to be fully steeped in the book for a while.  (My "I'll just read for a while before bed, even though I've been up since 5am, but I'm sure I can stay focused!" routine was not always a good one.)

Anyone with celiac's disease or gluten sensitivity--I highly recommend this for you.  But obviously, the appeal for this book goes beyond that (since I'm about as gluten-unfree as they come).  Foodies, lovers of foodie non-fiction, and really anybody who wants a better understanding of what they're eating, are sure to find something fascinating between these pages.

Are any of my loyal blog readers gluten-free?  By necessity, or by choice?  How do you think this book would influence your daily diet (if at all)?

Avery Books has generously offered to give away a copy of Grain of Truth to one of my lucky readers!  Enter using the Rafflecopter form below.  US entrants only please.  Ends May 21!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, January 16, 2015

Beware the Cookie Aisle! Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss


Title: Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
Author: Michael Moss
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: February 26, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

In the spring of 1999 the heads of the world’s largest processed food companies—from Coca-Cola to Nabisco—gathered at Pillsbury headquarters in Minneapolis for a secret meeting. On the agenda: the emerging epidemic of obesity, and what to do about it.
 
Increasingly, the salt-, sugar-, and fat-laden foods these companies produced were being linked to obesity, and a concerned Kraft executive took the stage to issue a warning: There would be a day of reckoning unless changes were made. This executive then launched into a damning PowerPoint presentation—114 slides in all—making the case that processed food companies could not afford to sit by, idle, as children grew sick and class-action lawyers lurked. To deny the problem, he said, is to court disaster.
 
When he was done, the most powerful person in the room—the CEO of General Mills—stood up to speak, clearly annoyed. And by the time he sat down, the meeting was over.
 
Since that day, with the industry in pursuit of its win-at-all-costs strategy, the situation has only grown more dire. Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It comes from processed food. It’s no wonder, then, that one in three adults, and one in five kids, is clinically obese. It’s no wonder that twenty-six million Americans have diabetes, the processed food industry in the U.S. accounts for $1 trillion a year in sales, and the total economic cost of this health crisis is approaching $300 billion a year.
 
In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century—including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, NestlĂ©, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
 
Moss takes us inside the labs where food scientists use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure. He unearths marketing campaigns designed—in a technique adapted from tobacco companies—to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: Dial back on one ingredient, pump up the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt.” He talks to concerned executives who confess that they could never produce truly healthy alternatives to their products even if serious regulation became a reality. Simply put: The industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat. Just as millions of “heavy users”—as the companies refer to their most ardent customers—are addicted to this seductive trio, so too are the companies that peddle them. You will never look at a nutrition label the same way again.


My Review:

The other night at book club, I told one of the other moms (hi, Abby!) that I was planning to review this book soon.  She was interested, but expressed disdain at the overwhelming amount of information out there about how bad our food is these days.  I had to agree.  Every time you turn around, there's another news article or viral Facebook post telling you to cut back on food additives, or sugar, or carbs, or whatever.  As much as I want to eat healthier (and feed my family better food), it can all be a bit much.

(And the fact is, Small Fry just isn't going to live life without Goldfish, even if I have no desire to know what gives them that lovely orange hue.)

However--I do love books like this one in moderation (maybe once a year or so?) in order to remind myself of some basic principles to get my eating back in order.  For example, I read Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food in 2009, and spent the rest of that year trying to eat more vegetables and good fats as a result (if you like the Mediterranean diet, you MUST read that book. Yum). Last year, I read Pooja Mottl's The 3-Day Reset, and started trying to lower my sugar consumption.  Do books like this make me avoid processed foods entirely?  No, but I think I benefit from a little kick in the pants once in a while.

Enter Salt Sugar Fat.  I heard great things about this expose of the processed food industry back when it was first released, and given my resolution to eat better this year, it was high time for some food reading.  Despite the subtitle on this book, I wouldn't necessarily say that it's a war cry against the processed food industry.  Actually, the increasing consumption of salt, sugar, and fat seems to be based on a vicious cycle between what the public wants and what the food companies can profitably (for them) provide.  America wants more convenience foods?  The food companies gave it to them, but with lots of unhealthy ingredients to increase shelf life and make them palatable.  Now Americans are obese and need healthier food?  Some food companies do, in fact, want to provide that--but as soon as salt/sugar/fat levels in the food are lowered, taste is compromised, and the companies can't make money off a bland-tasting product.  So back to salt, sugar, and fat we go.

That's not to say that the food companies shouldn't be held largely responsible.  They created America's cravings for unhealthy foods, and they are doing little to reverse them.  (Not to mention, they are working hard to bring those cravings to other countries.)  In fact, they keep doing research to find out how to make us MORE addicted to their stuff.  But one of the most interesting things about this book was the interplay between what Americans want, and what the companies feel pressured to provide.  Many of Moss's interviewees were former industry employees who had tried to enact healthy change in their companies, but in the end, they were nearly always thwarted by the bottom line--companies are going to offer the things that sell.  And what sells is salt, sugar, and fat.

Moss also delves into the science behind our addictions to these three ingredients, which was super fascinating.  Between the revelations about the food industry and the biological details of our dependence on salt, sugar and fat, my first trip to the grocery store after reading this book felt like doing battle.  "I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO DO THERE WITH THAT PRODUCT PLACEMENT, GROCERY FIENDS!  Take your 'all natural' claims and shove 'em!"  But really, this is all good information to have if you want to be a more conscious and empowered shopper.

While the level of detail might be a bit overwhelming (towards the end, I was getting a little bored with the financial info about the food companies), this is an extremely well-researched look at processed foods, and a great way to start off your new year if you're looking to become an educated eater.

Confess it, readers: what's your greatest processed food weakness?  Mine is Oreos.  OREOS ALL DAY.  Bonus if they're the holiday White Fudge ones.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Book Review: Cooked by Michael Pollan


Title: Cooked
Author: Michael Pollan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In Cooked, Michael Pollan explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen. Here, he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Apprenticing himself to a succession of culinary masters, Pollan learns how to grill with fire, cook with liquid, bake bread, and ferment everything from cheese to beer.

Each section of Cooked tracks Pollan’s effort to master a single classic recipe using one of the four elements. A North Carolina barbecue pit master tutors him in the primal magic of fire; a Chez Panisse trained cook schools him in the art of braising; a celebrated baker teaches him how air transforms grain and water into a fragrant loaf of bread; and finally, several mad-genius "fermentos” (a tribe that includes brewers, cheese makers, and all kinds of picklers) reveal how fungi and bacteria can perform the most amazing alchemies of all. The reader learns alongside Pollan, but the lessons move beyond the practical to become an investigation of how cooking involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships. Cooking, above all, connects us.

The effects of not cooking are similarly far reaching. Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.


My Review:

You've all heard me wax poetic about Michael Pollan in the past.  I find his nonfiction works about food to be endlessly fascinating.  If you've never read any of his stuff, probably his two most well-known books (other than this one) are The Omnivore's Dilemma, and In Defense of Food.  The Omnivore's Dilemma takes a close look at where our modern-day food comes from: everything from our organic (or is it?) produce, to the Cheetos in Aisle 5.  It's eye-opening (and somewhat disturbing) for sure.  On the flip side, In Defense of Food is about how we decide what to eat.  What does the American diet consist of, and is it really good for us?

I highly recommend reading those two books before jumping into Cooked.  Cooked is a great follow-up because as Pollan states in the intro, it bridges the gap between those other two subjects: he already wrote about where food comes from, and what we choose to eat, but what about the way that food gets to the table?  How do we prepare it...and why?  That's what Cooked attempts to examine.

The book is divided into 4 chapters: Fire (grilling/barbecue), Water (braising/pot meals), Air (bread making), and Earth (fermentation, such as pickling and beer brewing).  Pollan argues that lot of our meals these days are ready-made by corporations: frozen dinners, boxed cereals, instant mashed potatoes, etc.  What people define as "cooking" these days is iffy at best...and I'll admit it, I say that I "cooked" dinner on a night when I boiled up a pot of pasta and threw a glop of Ragu on top.  Is that really cooking though?  Wouldn't cooking be a more apt description if I made the noodles, or crushed up the tomatoes for the sauce?  Pollan attempts to get back to the basics with these four methods of cooking--methods that a lot of us have outsourced to the food service industry in the last 50-ish years.

I was enthralled by every chapter, but unexpectedly, the one that got most of my attention was the last  (Earth, or fermentation).  I honestly thought this one would drag a little bit for me.  I'm not particularly interested in pickling, and I'm familiar with brewing already because my husband has done it, so I figured I wouldn't glean much from that section.  However, Pollan includes a deep discussion about how "fermentos" (a subculture of fermenters that believe in using natural (ie not sanitized) fermentation processes to make things like sauerkraut, pickles, cheese, etc) are adamant about the health benefits of their products.  In the world of antibacterial hand soap and throwing out any cheese with the smallest dot of blue fuzz on it, many of us have lost the "good" bacteria in our GI tracts that we need in order to digest things well and ward off infections.  He makes some really great, well-researched points, and I found myself reading half the chapter aloud to my husband ("listen to THIS part, OMG you will thank me later for enlightening you!").

The book as a whole will make you feel smarter, while also providing some entertainment.  Pollan found a person (or several people) in each chapter to help him try his hand at their cooking techniques, often with unexpected results.  (And often with delicious results...prepare to feel voracious after reading.)  His personal experiences, paired with the historical and scientific information he has gathered, makes for an excellent read.

Have I hooked you yet?  Cooked is an awesome nonfiction pick for anyone interested in the food they prepare.  At the very least, it will inspire you to look at your oven in a whole new way.  You do have to be prepared for some history lessons, as well as some food science, but they're mixed so seamlessly into the rest of the narrative that I doubt you'll be bothered.

Now then...off to perfect my braising technique.

Have you read any of Pollan's books?  What did you think?
 
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