Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Mangia! Mangia!

These are exciting times for foodies.

New restaurants are opening in the Naples area, offering everything from low-calorie health food to sauce-based haute cuisine. One new health-oriented place advertises its meat dishes as coming from "humanely raised, environmentally sustained animals that are exposed to no antibiotics, pesticides or added hormones." You can't be too careful.

But kidding aside, good things are happening. Coffee, the life-blood for many of us, got another favorable report. Studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that people who drank two or three cups a day had a lower risk of death from heart disease or cancer than those who drank no coffee at all. A three-point play. Coffee props up an aging mind, and it's good for you to boot.

And how about salt, that cheapest of flavorants that makes everything taste better? Salt is in everything: bread, soup, deli meats, most processed foods, restaurant entrees. Long a pariah for its effect in raising blood pressure, salt has been on everybody's "bad" list for years. The FDA wants intake lowered by one-third.

But new findings show we don't know as much about salt as we thought we did. Studies on Russian cosmonauts, held in isolation to simulate space travel, showed increasing amounts of salt made them less thirsty and hungrier. Animal studies confirmed this. Mice burned more calories when they got more salt, eating 25% more just to maintain their weight. The implications are profound and completely unexpected. So don't throw out your salt shaker just yet. We still have a lot to learn.

Then there are condiments, the powders you buy in tiny jars at the supermarket for five bucks apiece. They have a long history of curing all kinds of things. My wife's favorite is turmeric and, wouldn't you know, recent reports have shown she was prescient. Turns out turmeric, which is loaded with antioxidants, suppresses deposits in the brain leading to dementia. Mind you, studies so far have been limited to rats and mice. But the outlook is good if you're a fan of chutneys, curries, chicken stews -- dishes made better by a hefty dose of turmeric.

There are other brain boosters as well. The Canadian Brain Health Guide recommends lots of berries, whole grains, beans and cold-water fish. Our neighbors to the north claim such a diet reduces risk of developing Alzheimer's by 36%.

For me, the best news was that nuts provide all kinds of benefits. Ever since a trip to Hawaii, I've been hooked on macadamia nuts. Best snack ever. The FDA recommends at least 100 nuts of any kind each week. That and other good behavior is said to reduce the incidence of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

High science is helping out. Onions have been genetically engineered to boost the level of flavonoids, adding new dimensions of flavor. The Japanese have developed carrots with increased fiber content and high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene. New research using gene editing is improving the flavor of tomatoes and creating mushrooms that don't brown when sliced.

Even bacon may be making a comeback. My tree-hugging friends say everyone should avoid eating beef because cattle flatulence is a big source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Pigs, it turns out, do less ... Well, let's just say they emit much less methane. And that should be enough to give bacon a dispensation from the FDA, right?  Removal from the "never eat" list.

No question, things are looking up.  Mangia!

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