Monthly Archives: March 2010

Maple Syrup – Another reason to love the real deal

I love NPR’s science Friday.  Especially when they talk about food!  Today they featured some new research on real maple syrup (NOT Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth, or any other pseudo maple junk) that found that maple syrup contains more than 20 different health-promoting plant compounds.  Shockingly, Canada sponsored the study.  But I’m still cool with it.  The research was done by a scientist at the Univeristy of Rhode Island and presented at the American Chemical Society.

What the study found is that real maple syrup contains several components that are anti-oxidants, and contain anti-cancer, anti-bacterial and anti-diabetic properties.  This is on top of the minerals they already knew were in there, including zinc, thiamine and calcium.  One interesting finding was the presence of phenolics -the same class of antioxidants found in berries.  They suspect that when the tree is tapped it lets off the phenolics as a healing response.  Kinda cool. 

Now this isn’t exactly a reason to drink maple syrup as a health tonic, or load up with extra on your pancakes.  The impact of maple’s sugars are still rough on the body just like sugar – especially in excess.  But this is yet more evidence that eating natural foods is best – if you’re going to have some sweetener why not get the trace minerals and nutrients in maple syrup?  Plus is tastes so, so much better than the fake stuff.   And here is Ohio we have the benefit of getting locally produced, top-quality maple syrup.  Check for it at your local farmer’s marker…or if you’re feeling crazy and have a maple tree -you can even make your own 🙂

By |March 26th, 2010|General, Recipes|

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution: Did you watch?

I was really looking forward to watching this show, where Britain’s celebrity “Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver promises to re-make the cafeteria food in Huntington, W Va. which was recently names as the most unhealthy city in America based on its rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and mortality.  Jamie’s mission is to get fresh, from-scratch foods with healthy ingredients into the town’s school lunches.  The program documents his many struggles in accomplishing this goal, which in the first episode (which aired last night) included the strong-willed school cooks, the principal, the food budget, the school kids’ taste buds, and the completely illogical USDA school food requirements.

In my opinion the show did not disappoint, and I highly recommend watching it, for so many reasons.  Perhaps reason #1 is that with very few exceptions school food is the same all over the country.  If you are a parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend, or colleague of anyone with school children you will get an enlightening view into what our kids are being fed on a daily basis at school.  Pizza for breakfast, chicken nuggets, fries (which meet USDA criteria for a vegetable), and flourescent colored strawberry milk are just a few tantilizing menu items.  I know enough to understand that most of these heavily processed foods have scary, unnatural, and dangerous ingredients, but even I am shocked at some things.  For example, Fast Food Nation found that one strawberry milk has 59 ingredients, most of which are chemicals and “E” words (and no actually strawberries).  Chicken nuggets can be less than 30% actual chicken (in England one study found 16% – which includes skin), and the process that is used to make them is beyond [...]

Honeybees are sweeter than honey

Perhaps you’ve heard murmerings over the past 5-10 years about the plight of the honeybee, whose population has dropped 50% in the past 50 years in the U.S.  While many of you are probably thinking, “sweet, fewer irritating bee stings for me”, there is much, much more at stake than your carefree picnic time.  Honeybees do much, much more than make honey. 

Honeybees pollinate 80% of the flowering plants in the US, and pollination is necessary for plants to produce fruit.  A huge percentage of our food supply is dependent on this process, and if the bees disappear so will our food.  Here is an excerpt describing just how critical the honeybee truly is to our ability to eat:

“Typically, according to the US Department of Agriculture, these under-appreciated workers pollinate 80% of our flowering crops which constitute 1/3 of everything we eat.Their loss could effect not only dietary staples such as apples, broccoli, strawberries, nuts, asparagus, blueberries and cucumbers, but may threaten our beef and dairy industries if alfalfa is not available for feed. One Cornell University study estimated that honeybees annually pollinate $14 billion worth of seeds and crops in the US. Essentially, if honeybees disappear, they could take most of our insect pollinated plants with them, potentially reducing mankind to little more than a bread and water diet.”

Before 2006 the honeybee population was declining at a relatively constant rate, and was believed to be due to certain pests (mites), pesticides, and reduction in beekeepers and natural bee environments.  However, in 2006 the honeybee population took a major hit, declining by 25% with no understood cause.  This was labeled Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), and is characterized by bees that leave the hive and mysteriously do not return [...]

Roasted Chickpeas

This recipe is awesome for a snack or small munchie to have with drinks before a meal.  It’s easy, something you can whip up from ingredients you keep on hand, and fast.  I like to mix up the seasonings – one of my favorites is to use 1-2 tsp of curry powder along with some heat from a little cayenne or crushed red pepper.  But have fun with it and use whatever flavors you enjoy! 


  • 1 (12 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and black pepper
  • garlic salt
  • crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ cup pistachios


  1. Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Rinse chickpeas and drain well, roll on a clean towel to dry
  3. Put chickpeas in a bowl, toss with olive oil, and season to taste with seasonings.
  4. Spread on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 to 35 minutes, until browned and crunchy. Check the chickpeas occasionally and shake the pan to rotate.  Add pistachios for the last 5-10 minutes. 


By |March 14th, 2010|General, Recipes|

Holy Cravings! From Cookies to Vegetables

The absolute most satisfying thing about my business is seeing my clients thrive.  On Saturday I woke up with the following email in my inbox, and it was so inspiring I just had to share it here (with permission, of course).  Read on, to hear one of my clients describe how her late-night food craving became a major dietery epiphany!

“I just had to tell you this…

So, about a half hour ago I was having a complete snack attack.  I had a snack attack last night, too, and cured it by munching slowly on some yummy granola I made this past Sunday.  I was surprised to experience yet another snack attack – two days in a row.  Before indulging I decided to think about what I ate all day and what my body might be lacking.  I had eaten half a grapefruit, eggs with oatmeal (delicious btw), some greek yogurt, a couple grapes, a small bowl-full of this rice mixture I made on Sunday (extra yummy!  can’t wait to tell you about that), and a protein shake with banana, peanut butter, protein and fiber powder.  It totaled up to less than 1,200 calories, so I figured it was okay to eat snacks since I really didn’t get much energy from food today.

But what to eat?  I was going to go for the granola again, but it didn’t seem pleasing.  So, I took a moment to settle my mind and really listen to what my body was telling me.  Then I looked at my pantry, saw some grape tomatoes and had a couple.  Tasted good!  Still wasn’t satisfied, though.  I went through the fridge, thought about having more of that rice mixture or some soy milk…but [...]

By |March 13th, 2010|General|

Do Cows Know More Than Chemists?

Maybe, when it comes to food. 

Several years ago, Dr. Joan Gussow said,  “As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.”  This is one of my favorite quotes, and it’s meaningful on more than one level when it comes to food.

Regarding butter vs. margarine, this quote really has to do with the ability, or lack thereof, of man to improve upon nature.  Certainly, chemistry has led to some incredible accomplishments: vaccines and drugs that fight cancer come immediately to mind.  But when it comes to food, we seem to be a long way away from improving upon what simple, organic nature provides us.  Margarine is the perfect example.  Margarine was created by French chemists (mon dieu!) in the mid-late 1800s when fats were of short supply.  Plant oils were extracted and hydrogenated – a process that allowed the liquid fat to solidify into a solid that, conveniently, also offered a much longer shelf life. 

The resulting hydrogenated fats were eventually embraced as health food, due to the fact that they were unsaturated, and went about replacing butter.  This delighted processed food manufacterers, as margarine is cheaper than butter and doesn’t spoil nearly as fast, which led to their wide-spread adoption in packaged crackers, cookies, cakes, donuts, and fryer oil.   Little did we know at the time that trans fats are exponentially more dangerous than saturated fats.  Not only are they a time bomb in the arteries, but they trigger an inflammatory repsonse that can contribute to a long list of diseases – cancer, alzheimers, heart disease, and many many more.  (Current US gov’t recommendations are to eat less than 2g of trans fats per day – which is too generous). 

What other examples exist?  There may very well be others that [...]

By |March 9th, 2010|General|

Submit your own question, I'll answer it!

Do you have a question about food choices, public policy, food health and safety, or anything else food/health related?  Send me an email at, and each week I’ll answer 1 reader’s question on my blog.  Can’t wait to hear from you!  -Alissa

By |March 4th, 2010|General|

Plastic food containers: toxic or harmless?

I hear a lot of questions from clients and friends who are concerned about the potential dangers of plastics.  Parents of young kids tend to be the most concerned, and for good reason, as developing bodies are more susceptible to chemical exposure. What we hear via various media outlets about plastic food containers is all over the board: plastic water bottles cause breast cancer vs.  it’s completely harmless  vs. avoid certain types of plastic, etc.   This happens to be an area that fascinates me and that I know a lot about…and it can get confusing.  I had a chance to study the issues in-depth in my former career as a strategy consultant.  For several years I helped a prominent glass company understand the pros/cons of plastics vs. glass in various applications, and in fact chaired a white paper on food containers.  While the career didn’t stick (although that particular project, as it pertained to food, was my very favorite), what I learned about plastics sure did. 

The chemicals in plastics are no joke.  There are very real health dangers, although the level of danger depends on the type of plastic, how you use it, and how susceptible your particular body is.  That said, everyone can take a few simple steps to reduce their exposure to the most dangerous chemicals.  Here are my top learnings and recommendations regarding plastic food containers.  I follow all of these suggestions myself, and while it may seem like a hassle at first, it’s really not so bad.  Small changes over time add up, so take it one step at a time.

  •  Use glass if you can – it’s the safest bet, by far.  Glass is more chemically inert than ANY type of plastic, it’s also more heat-resistant, will last forever, and comes [...]