Category Archives: food

Mulberry trees and silkworms

Late May and Early June is the season for mulberries in the United States.  Mulberry trees thrive in warm temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas.  Mulberries are widely distributed because the berries are a favorite food of the birds who scatter the seeds in their droppings.

A mulberry tree is not very distinctive, but if it is close to a sidewalk, the sidewalk will be covered with berries that fall from the tree.  The immature berries are white or light green, and they turn red and then dark purple as they ripen.  The berries can be harvested individually from the low-hanging branches, but it is easier to put a sheet under a branch of a tree and then shake the branch.  Some of the berries will bruise and the sheet will be stained with purple spots, but this is the best way to gather enough berries to make a pie or some preserves.  Wine can also be made from the berries.  Mulberries are rich in anthocyanins which are colorful pigments with beneficial health effects that may include the prevention of cancer.

There are many varieties of mulberry trees.  Silkworms will only eat the leaves of the white mulberry tree (Morus alba).  Silk production, or sericulture, has been practiced in China for at least 5,000 years.  Domesticated silkworms are entirely dependent on humans and no longer occur naturally in the wild. Domesticated silkworm moths cannot fly. They have been bred selectively for improving the quality of the cocoon and silk production.

Silk moths lay their eggs on the mulberry leaves, and the worms hatch after fourteen days.  The worms feed on the leaves continuously, and they molt as they grow.  After molting four times, the larvae enclose themselves in a cocoon of raw silk produced by their salivary glands.  Silk is basically a protein consisting of the amino acids glycine (60%), alanine (20%), and serine (20%).   Inside the cocoon, a silkworm transforms into a pupa that emerges as a moth in about three weeks.  The moths reproduce and die within five days, but in this time the female manages to lay from 200 to 500 eggs to continue the life cycle.

Silk is harvested by dipping cocoons in boiling water to kill the pupa and help unravel the thread.  Each cocoon contains a single silk thread that is about 300 to 900 meters long.  Silk from China was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans.  The silk road toward the west was opened by the Chinese in the 2nd century AD.  Large caravans carried huge quantities of beautiful textiles to the coasts of the Mediterranean.  Although silk has been displaced from many applications by synthetic fabrics, more than 80,000 metric tons of silk are produced yearly, principally by China and India.

Why ice cream makes you fat

For dessert, a friend brought a box of four ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joe’s made with vanilla ice cream between chocolate chip cookies and rolled in mini chocolate chips.  The sandwiches are actually delicious, but if you are used to low glycemic foods, you feel your blood sugar spike for about two hours after eating one of these sandwiches.  The portion does not look too big.  Each sandwich is about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, but it is packed with 440 calories.

The nutrition label says that each sandwich has 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat which is 60% of the daily value.  In other words, this little ice cream morsel has more than half of the saturated fat that you should eat in a whole day.  The amount of carbohydrate is also quite high, 60 grams of carbohydrate, of which 42 grams are sugars.  This is more sugar than in a 12 oz (355 ml) can of Coca Cola.

Ice cream is high in fat and high in sugar.  It takes one hour of strenuous exercise to burn off 400 calories, and it is a sure bet that you are not going to go jogging after eating an ice cream sandwich with this much sugar.  You are going to feel sleepy, you are going to sit down on the couch, and your body is going to store the sugar as fat.

You could limit your calories by cutting a sandwich into quarters with 110 calories each, but who has the discipline to stop after eating four tiny bites?  It is too much hassle to put the remainder in a container and back in the freezer, and it would be a waste to let the ice cream melt.  So, you have to eat it all before it melts.  Right?

These are the reasons why ice cream makes you fat:

  • High fat
  • High sugar
  • Large portions
  • Lack of exercise
  • Lack of discipline

Learn how to lose weight

Maltodextrin, Soluble Corn Fiber and Resistant Starch

Glucose

Glucose is a simple sugar that is a constituent of many different types of complex carbohydrates in its ring structural form.  Polymers of glucose, like cellulose, are completely insoluble and indigestible.  Other polymers, such as starch, are broken down by the enzyme amylase in saliva, and the glucose can then be burned for energy by the body.  There are other polymers of glucose, classified as soluble fiber, that are indigestible, but can be broken down by intestinal bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids.[1]

Insoluble fiber just provides bulk, whereas soluble fiber serves important nutritional functions, such as lowering cholesterol by binding to bile secretions and facilitating their excretion in the feces.  Soluble fiber also promotes growth of intestinal probiotic bacteria that produce some vitamins and help to maintain regularity.  Insoluble fiber has no calories, and soluble fiber has about half of the calories of simple carbohydrates because it is not completely digested by colonic bacteria.[2]

Many food fillers are derivatives of starch.  Maltodextrin is a partially hydrolyzed starch frequently used as a bulking agent in sugar substitutes, but it is metabolized like a sugar.  Manufacturers have started using resistant starch and soluble fiber derived from corn as filling agents in an attempt to produce lower calorie products.  Resistant starch  is starch that is not digested in the small intestine and is considered a different type of dietary fiber, as it can deliver some of the bulking benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber.

Learn more about carbohydrates

[1] Brighenti, Furio et al. “Colonic fermentation of indigestible carbohydrates contributes to the second-meal effect.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 83.4 (2006): 817-822.
[2] Englyst, Klaus and Englyst, Hans. “Carbohydrate Bioavailability.” British Journal of Nutrition 94 (2005): 1-11.

Cherry Juice Sampler Package

CherryPharm Juice Sampler Package

Tart cherries are known to be a good source of antioxidants and phytonutrients with a multitude of health benefits.  I recently got a sampler package with three varieties of CherryPharm cherry juices: Natural Light, Natural Health, and Natural Recovery.  Unlike many products in the market, the ingredients of the CherryPharm juices are really natural.  All three varieties of these cherry juices retain the tartness of freshly picked cherries.  The taste reminded me of the sour cherries that I collected when I went to a local farm to gather blueberries.

The ingredients of Natural Light cherry juice are: tart cherry juice, water, and natural stevia extract used as a sweetener.  An 8 fl. oz. serving has 90 calories, and the product is labeled as 65% juice which is the juice of 40 cherries.

The Natural Recovery cherry juice has 160 calories per 8 fl. oz. serving and the juice of 50 cherries.  The ingredients are: Tart cherries, whey protein (8 grams), water, apple juice concentrate, and vitamins like niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid, biotin, vitamin b12, and maltodextrin.

The Natural Health cherry juice has 130 calories per 8 fl. oz. serving and the juice of 50 cherries.  The ingredients are: whole tart cherries, water, and apple juice concentrate.  This is the label of the Natural Health cherry juice.

An 8 fl. oz. portion of cherry juice is the equivalent of two servings of fruit.  CherryPharm products can be obtained from www.CherryPharm.com, and at some Wegmans and Whole Foods stores.

Striped ravioli and multicolored pasta

Striped ravioli and multi-colored pasta

Striped pasta has the same taste as regular pasta, but it is more pleasing to the eye.  Multicolored pasta is more celebratory than regular pasta.   To show off the colors, it is necessary to serve this pasta with a white sauce, such as Alfredo sauce.

I compared two methods of making striped pasta.  In one method, strips of pasta of different colors are arranged side-by-side and then pressed to fuse them into a pasta sheet.  In the second method, colored strips of pasta are arranged on top of a sheet of white pasta, and then pressed together.  The adjacent strip method produces sheets of pasta where the colors go all the way through the sheet, whereas the overlay method produces pasta with a white side and a striped side.

The picture above shows ravioli made by the overlay strip method.  The overlay method is better because the underlying white pasta sheet has a uniform consistency.  Variations in the humidity of the colored doughs make it difficult to have sheets with uniform texture using the adjacent strip method.  Typically, one color will have more water than the other causing the sheet to stretch unevenly when the sheets are being filled, and this can cause the sheets to tear.

Learn how to make striped ravioli

How to lower blood cholesterol naturally


According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 106.7 million Americans age 20 and older have total blood cholesterol levels of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and higher. That is 35% of the population of the United States! The epidemic of high cholesterol is mainly due to the fats used in packaged and commercial foods. Cholesterol can be lowered by avoiding hydrogenated fats and eating polyunsaturated fats found in fish, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. Unfortunately, essential fatty acids turn rancid rapidly, and manufacturers avoid them to prevent packaged foods from spoiling while they sit in supermarket shelves.

The worst fats for your health are hydrogenated fats because they increase Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” cholesterol, and they decrease the High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), the “good” cholesterol. Saturated fats like those found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil increase cholesterol levels powerfully, but these are the fats that are used by manufacturers because they do not get stale.

The chart above shows the effects of individual dietary fatty acids on Total Serum Cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol when 1% of the energy from carbohydrates in the diet is replaced by 1% of energy of the specific fatty acids. The chart shows cholesterol increases from lauric acid (C12:0), myristic acid (C14:0), and palmitic acid (C16:0) which are found in coconut oil, palm oil, and butter. Elaidic acid (trans-C18:1), which is present in hydrogenated fats, is the worst because it increases LDL and decreases HDL. The saturated fatty acid stearic acid (C18:0), the monounsaturated oleic acid (C18:1), and the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (C18:2) decrease LDL and increase HDL to various degrees.[1] Here are some steps to lower cholesterol:

  • Avoid all hydrogenated fats (they are very common in commercial fried foods and baked goods)
  • Reduce sources of saturated fats (butter, coconut oil, palm oil, fat from meats, chicken skin)
  • Increase consumption of polyunsaturated fats (fish oil, walnut oil, flax seed oil, grape seed oil)
  • Add soluble fiber to your diet (oatmeal, legumes)

Unfortunately, many of the oils available commercially are highly processed. The best thing is not to eat them. Meet your essential fatty acid requirements by eating foods that have the oils, e.g., fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc. Olive oil does not lower cholesterol; it is basically neutral. The reason why olive oil receives a lot of positive promotion is because it is used in the Mediterranean diet, and the Mediterranean diet is associated with lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases, although this is not necessarily because of the oil.

The hardest part in normalizing your cholesterol will be avoiding the vast number of commercial foods that have hydrogenated fats and saturated fats. They include shortening, margarine, butter flavor popcorn, hash browns, french fries, biscuits, baked apple pies, chocolate chip cookies, taco shells, and the list goes on and on. Pay close attention to the food labels.

Learn how to lower your cholesterol

[1] Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):1017S-1022S.

Americans eat too much sugar


The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey database from 2001 to 2004 showed that the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons or about 355 calories per day.  “Added sugars” are sugars and syrups that are added during processing or preparation of foods as well as sugars and syrups that are added at the table, they do not include the sugars that are naturally present in fruits and whole grains.

In August 2009, The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a recommendation to cut the intake of added sugars.[1]  The publication gives consumers detailed guidance of the upper limit of added sugars in the diet.  The AHA recommendations emphasize a healthy lifestyle and a diet that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. In addition to consuming an overall healthy diet, the guidelines emphasize the importance of a healthy body weight to avoid metabolic abnormalities and adverse health conditions such diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The problem with added sugars is that they are refined carbohydrates without any vitamin or mineral content.  Sugars are just “empty calories” without any nutritive value.  If you don’t exercise enough to burn them off, the body converts them to fat.

Most American women should consume no more than 100 calories of added sugars per day; most men, no more than 150 calories. That corresponds to about 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for women and 9 for men.  Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the greatest source of added sugars in the American diet. A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories from 8 teaspoons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup.  This means that even one can of soda per day is too much for the average woman, and this does not count all the other sources of added sugars such as salad dressing, spaghetti sauce, candy, and baked goods.

Learn about weight control and healthy diet

[1] Dietary Sugars Intake and Cardiovascular Health. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association, Circulation, 2009 Aug 24, PMID: 19704096 [link]

Dreaming about guitars and hamburgers

Last night, I had a dream that my friend was going to participate in a musical competition with his guitar.  There were other guys dressed in western clothes with guitars who were also going to be in the contest.

My friend invited me to his house.  It was one of those stucco houses with a porch along the whole front of the house that were built during the 1950’s.  My friend’s family had gathered around a folding table on the porch where there was a tray of nicely grilled hamburgers, loaves of white bread, and dishes with onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and pickles.  I thought that it was curious that they were using sliced bread instead of buns.  As I went to the table to assemble a succulent juicy hamburger with mustard, I woke up feeling very hungry.

Two days ago, I was playing the guitar, and this is probably why the guitars got into my dream.  I also have been eating chicken for two weeks on a restricted calorie diet.  I miss a good burger.  I think I need to change my menu for a few days.  There is a McDonald’s restaurant across the street.  Their Angus Third Pounder Deluxe looks tempting.  The ingredients are[1]:

Angus Deluxe:
Angus Beef Patty, Premium Bun, Pasteurized Process American Cheese, Tomato Slice, Mayonnaise Dressing, Red Onions, Crinkle Cut Pickle Slices, Leaf Lettuce, and Mustard.

One thing that makes me hesitate about this big burger is that it has 760 Calories and 41 grams of fat, including 2 grams of trans fats.  I thought that the trans fats came from shortening used in the bread or the mayonnaise dressing, but I was wrong.  Unlike the Regular Buns which may contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil, the Premium Bun of the Angus burger does not contain trans fats, but the Angus Beef Patty is not like the 100% Beef Patty seasoned with salt and pepper used in most of McDonald’s sandwiches.  It actually contains a lot of ingredients, including partially hydrogenated oils.  Here are the ingredients of the Angus Beef Patty[1]:

Angus Beef Patty:
100% Angus beef. Prepared with Grill Seasoning (salt, black pepper) and Angus Burger Seasoning: Salt, sugar, dextrose, onion powder, maltodextrin, natural butter flavor (dairy source), autolyzed yeast extract, spices, garlic powder, vegetable protein (hydrolyzed corn, soy and wheat), natural (animal, plant and botanical source) and artificial flavors, dried beef broth, sunflower oil, caramel color, partially hydrogenated cottonseed and soybean oil, gum arabic, soy sauce solids (wheat, soybean, salt, maltodextrin, caramel color), palm oil, worcestershire sauce powder [distilled vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, salt, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, spices, tamarind, natural flavor (fruit source)], beef fat, annatto and turmeric (color), calcium silicate and soybean oil (prevent caking).

If McDonald’s used the premium bun with the 100% beef patties, I could have a hamburger without added trans fats, but alas, that is not the case.  I remember the wonderful hamburgers that I used to eat in a diner during my sophomore year in college.  A large beef patty on a toasted bun with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickle, and a good dab of yellow mustard. No artificial ingredients.  Those were the good old days.


Learn about Trans Fats

Download some songs and samples of string instruments

[1] McDonald’s USA Ingredients

Harvesting Rainbows and Turnips


In the spring, I planted seeds for radishes, broccoli, tomatoes and turnips in the pots of the penthouse.

Some garden vegetables and herbs sprouted from seeds that dropped from the plants that I had last year.  When I harvest lettuce, I only take the side leaves and let the center stem grow.  Eventually, the lettuce develops blooms like dandelions and, if I leave it alone, I get a pot full of lettuce the next year.  When I harvest dill, I always allow some of the yellow flowers to develop into seeds, and it comes back year-after-year.  The sunflowers that sprouted from dropped seeds had to be thinned out because there were just too many for my small pots.

I already had a nice crop of radishes this year, but the broccoli does not want to bloom.  I saw some small florets, but they were too small to pick and they opened into tiny blue flowers.  I have been eating some of the broccoli leaves.  They are thick and chewy like cabbage.  The turnips really surprised me.  They grew very fast, and I chopped the greens and diced the roots to make vegetable soup.

Yesterday, when I walked by the balcony, I saw a rainbow that was so close that it seemed to be growing out of one my planters.  I did not try to reach for it because it is a 20-story drop to the ground.

Wrigleys Gum is not what it used to be


I am not a great gum chewer, but I do chew gum when I drive at night on the highway.  The chewing action and the taste of the gum provide sensory stimuli that keep me from falling asleep at the wheel.

I recently bought some Wrigley’s spearmint gum which has a nice refreshing taste, and looked at the ingredients.  Big surprise!  After buying a product for years, you develop brand loyalty and you keep buying the same thing because you know what it is.  Or at least, you think you know.

Wrigley’s and many other manufacturers have changed their chewing gum formulations and added artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K).  I looked at a whole aisle of gums, including Eclipse which is also made by Wrigley, and Stride made by Cadbury Adams USA, LLC.  I could not find a single pack of mint-flavored gum in the whole drugstore that did not have artificial sweeteners.  I do not have much objection to acesulfame K, but I would rather avoid aspartame.  Aspartame is considered safe in the small amounts needed for diet foods, but it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in my mouth.

Why are these artificial sweeteners added?  Look at the ingredients of Wrigley’s spearmint gum: sugar, gum base, dextrose, and corn syrup account for 98% of the ingredients.  The sugar, dextrose, and corn syrup are all very sweet, but they dissolve very fast when the gum is chewed.  The artificial sweeteners stay around and give a long-lasting sweet sensation.  A stick of gum weighs 2.7 grams; sugars account for 2 grams (74% of the weight) and provide 10 calories.

Everything changes with time.  Nothing is the way it used to be, and it is unlikely that things will go back to the way they were.  I suppose that is progress, but I miss the gum with no artificial sweeteners.  Maybe I will switch to carrots and celery sticks.

Learn how to read food labels