Kitchen Shrink: Stomp out those food-related foes

Now that you know how to avoid disasters caused by culinary equipment, here's a primer on protecting yourself and your family from food gremlins.

Spam protection

Avoid such products as Spam and its spin-offs including Spam Hot and Spicy and Spam Lite. This canned classic gets its name from its blended "Spicy Ham" ingredients - a gelatinous chunk of pig shoulder combined with salt, sugar and sodium nitrite, a preservative that maintains the pork's color.

Processed meats and hot dogs should also be added to the A-(void) list as these are loaded with such offenders as monosodium glutamate and sodium phosphates as well as nitrites. When dogs are grilled on the barbecue, the charred meat becomes a super-charged carcinogen.

Salmonella and jelly sandwiches

The ever-popular peanut butter, an inexpensive-stick-to-your-ribs-hunger-busting-vegetarian-protein, is going to seed. Peanut crops grown in the south are exposed to residual pesticides from their rotated cropmate, cotton. But even organic peanut butter, which is free of pesticides and additives such as corn syrup, emulsifiers and hydrogenated oils that also trigger allergies, may contain peanuts afflicted with a toxic mold or an aflatoxin which develops during harvesting.

And a nationwide salmonella scare has been added to the peanut butter mix as 575 people have become sick and eight died allegedly from eating tainted peanut butter.

Now's a perfect time to expand you and your kids' sandwich horizons with sunflower seed butter, macadamia nut butter and my favorite and the healthiest, almond butter.

In the can

Be cautious when buying canned fruits and veggies that have acidic properties - especially tomatoes - as the acids might eat away at the aluminum and leach into the food. Today many cans are made of steel and are lined with a white protective substance to prevent the transfer of molecules into the food. To be on the safe side, buy acidic-based foods in glass jars or tetra-pack cartons.

Chewing the fat

Different oils and fats are more suited for certain cooking modes and recipes, while some should just be bypassed. Although it's fine to cook with the heart-healthy olive oil, using it at high temperatures (such as in frying) changes its molecular structure, actually reversing the health effects. Stick to olive oil for simmering and salad dressings.

Although peanut oil is good for stir-frying, steer clear because of the salmonella scare and the abundant peanut allergies developing in this country. Rapeseed crops that produce canola oil are GM or genetically modified. That means the seeds are injected with foreign bodies to make them unpalatable to pests.

Soybean oil, a phytoestrogen, also seems to be popping up in everything. If you are at risk for breast cancer, this oil's not for you.

Butter is better than margarine, which is a couple of molecules away from plastic. Organic is even better yet since this comes from cows that dine on organic feed without pesticides or growth hormones.

Even though considered to be free of cholesterol, transfats - i.e. partially (or wholly) hydrogenated fats - are artery clogging monsters. The most common carriers of transfats are fast food French fries, potato chips and mass-produced baked goods.

Finally, the oil in avocados is a friendly fat, so dig in guiltlessly to your guacamole, but not with corn chips fried in transfats.

Something's fishy

The world is your oyster except if it's laced with PCBs, mercury, antibiotics and synthetic colorings like many farm-raised fish. If you're pregnant, steer clear of raw sushi and swordfish because of the high mercury content.

Same with shark, tuna, Chilean sea bass, king mackerel and grouper. The best catches are the wild caught, deep-sea, cold water large fish and seafood including Pacific cod and soles, haddock, herring, pollock, whitefish, Alaska salmon, catfish, tilapia, clams and scallops. And remember to trim the skin and fat before cooking to remove any stored PCBs.

The sweet life

The average person consumes about 175 pounds of sugar a year. Refined sugars are empty calories that pack a wallop on the pancreas while artificial sweeteners like

Aspartame rob your bones of calcium and other minerals. Sugars also create inflammation in the body and turn on an evil hormone that gives you the munchies.

Hidden sugars such as high fructose corn syrup, which triggers the body to create more fat, are found in a smorgasbord of products from ketchup to cereals.

Convert to natural sweeteners such as raw organic honey, an immune booster; pure maple syrup; stevia, a common herb that will not raise your blood sugar - same thing with syrup from the agave plant. Fructose, nature's sugar found in fruit, is not as forgiving in the bloodstream. The standing advice remains for all these sweeteners - moderation.

Bon appetit!

   
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