Tuesday, September 21, 2010

White House Chefs Enjoy Gulf Seafood

There’s a gulf of misunderstanding about the safety of seafood being harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. “When I tell them the shrimp is from Louisiana or anywhere in the Gulf a lot of customers just walk away,” shared seafood clerk, James Dicus, at Whole Foods Market in Buckhead, “They don’t understand it’s OK to eat it or it wouldn’t be here in our seafood case.” Nationwide, demand is down due to consumer concerns about potential contamination from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the official word from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency as well as state and university based scientists who are monitoring the situation is that fish and shellfish harvested from areas reopened or never affected by the oil spill closures show no trace of oil or dispersants and are safe to eat. Seafood safety researcher, Professor John W. Bell of Louisiana State University says tests range from detailed laboratory analysis of samples to organoleptic ‘sniff tests’ conducted by highly trained investigators to detect the presence of oil, “It’s amazing how they can pick up even the faintest hint.”

“It’s never been more stringently tested,” says Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration during a recent visit to New Orleans where I joined her for a lunch of Louisiana Shrimp Po Boy sandwiches, “We have put in place with our partners at NOAA, EPA as well as state officials and seafood experts a vigorous sampling plan from the water to the docks to the marketplace.”
White House Chefs Eat Gulf Seafood
In an effort to shore up consumer confidence and help support the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and seafood companies in dozens of communities along the Gulf coast, a dozen restaurant chefs from across the country led by White House Executive Chef Cris Comerford and her assistant chef Tafari Campbell joined the FDA commissioner for a fish fact finding mission in Louisiana. “This is very, very good seafood,” said Comerford digging into steamed crab dockside at Pontchartrain Blue Crab in Slidell, “All the scientists are doing everything they can to ensure whatever comes to the market is good for public consumption. It tastes good and it’s safe what more do you need to know?”

The group went out on shrimp boats, visited a crab processing facility and dropped in to dine at several New Orleans restaurants serving Gulf seafood including Chef John Besh’s August Restaurant. Besh, who been an outspoken defender of his state’s embattled seafood industry since Hurricane Katrina’s tragic blows, continues to use his visibility to help, “This is personal for me. I am concerned about the long lasting effects on salt marsh estuaries but the monitoring of seafood now has never been this extreme and having chefs from The White House dine here is great!”
One of the chefs in the group, Jeff Tunks of Acadiana in Washington, DC says, “I get a lot of questions from customers. I’m here to learn more because they trust me to serve the best and safest seafood. I’m even more confident now, too.”

In Atlanta, chef owner Kevin Rathbun or Rathbun’s continues to offer gulf seafood on his menu for great taste and good will, “We can never turn our backs when someone is down. We’re supporting the good people of the Gulf coast.” Meanwhile, Jamshad Zarnegar owner of The Last Resort Grill in Athens continues to buy Gulf shrimp because, “My customers don’t seem concerned.” Maybe folks are smarter in a University town.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Servings

One of my favorite diet quotes is from the late Oscar winning writer, actor and director Orson Welles who apparently wrestled with the concept of proper portion control, “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless there are three other people there.”
Size matters. If weight control is your goal then portion control is the key. According to a survey done by the Calorie Control Council, 84% of dieters say they eat smaller portions of their favorite foods to control their weight. But, what does “portion control” mean anyway? Are we doomed to a life of postage stamp sized servings and forever banned from buffets?
The terms "portion" and "serving" don't mean the same thing. A "portion" is the amount you choose for meals or snacks - such as a platter of ribs or big tumbler of orange juice. In comparison a "serving" is the amount nutrition experts recommend we eat – such as 3 to 4 ounces of meat or 6 ounces of fruit juice. Controlling portions starts with understanding how many servings of each kind of food you should have a day based on your total caloric needs.
Cutting Portion Control Down to Size:

1. A portion is not the same thing as a serving. Did you know that the typical 5 ounce deli bagel contains about the same calories as five slices of bread? If you know you should only be eating 6-9 (one ounce) servings of grains per day then you can see that the bagel is taking a big bite out of your budget. Your portion of pasta at a restaurant may be three cups of linguini piled on one plate, but that counts as six grain servings.

2. You can eat more than one serving. A serving of meat may be 3 to 4 ounces or the size of a deck of cards, but the portion of steak on your plate can be two decks of cards depending on your total caloric needs. The US dietary guidelines recommend healthy adults consume a minimum of 6 ounces of meat or other protein food per day.

3. A serving of butter is the same as a serving of olive oil. Olive oil may be a healthier fat than butter, but it contains the same number of calories per teaspoon serving.

4. Cooked weights may be lower than ounces quoted on the menu. This is good news. Restaurants list raw weight of meats on the menu. An 8 ounce filet mignon will shrink when grilled, often by twenty-five percent, so the cooked portion is actually 6 ounces.

5. You get more of some foods than others so pump up the volume.
One grain serving: ¾ cup pretzels vs. 5 mini rice cakes vs. 3 cups plain popcorn
One fruit serving: ¼ cup of dried fruit vs. 6 ounces of juice vs.1 cup fresh fruit
One vegetable serving: ½ cup green peas vs.1 cup cooked broccoli vs. 2 cups raw cucumber
One dairy serving: 1 ½ ounces of hard cheese vs. 4 ounces low fat cottage cheese vs. 8 ounces low fat yogurt
One meat serving: 3 ounces of chicken vs. 6 ounces of cooked lentils

6. Visualize This. To judge measurements keep these shapes in mind.
Meat or Poultry: 3 ounces = deck of cards
Pasta or rice, cooked: 1 cup = 1 baseball
Hard cheese: 1 ounce = 4 dice
Pancake/waffle: 4 inch = diameter of a CD
Potato or sweet potato: 1 potato = computer mouse
Nuts, dried fruit, granola: ¼ cup = golf ball

Friday, September 3, 2010

A girl walks into a bar, a restaurant, a donut shop....

Whether it's a bar or a bank of vending machines, proposed new FDA rules will require many eateries and drinkeries to post the calorie cost of food and drink.

Let’s start with a waist whittling word problem. If someone who usually gets a small order of fries and a large sweet tea at McDonald’s wants to skip one to lighten their lunch, which would cut the most calories? Answer: it’s a wash. According to nutrition facts posted on the company’s website they each contain 230 calories. The point is that it’s not easy to guess the amount of calories in menu items. A study by Healthy Eating Research at the University of Minnesota found that people tend to get calorie counts wrong most of the time. For instance, when a restaurant dish sounded “healthy”, such as a Chef’s Salad (930 calories) 90 percent underestimated the calories. That’s why many health professionals and now politicians want to see more nutrition labeling on restaurant menus.

Uncle Sam’s Menu Plan

Authorized by the healthcare legislation passed earlier this year, the U.S Food and Drug Administration recently released a draft of guidelines to require that calorie information be posted on menus and menu boards by restaurants and other food stores with 20 or more locations and vending machine operators with 20 or more machines. “Knowledge is power,” says Atlanta registered dietitian Marisa Moore, “Having nutrition information available for foods eaten away from home is critical to help make healthy choices.” Moore, a spokesperson for The American Dietetic Association, believes the new federal menu labeling requirement would help, “They will allow you to play detective less often. I’ve used online nutrition facts for years to help clients make healthy choices away from home. It’s helpful to see the 150 calorie difference between the grilled vs. fried chicken sandwich before you ever have a chance to taste it.” The new rule also requires that additional nutrition information on fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, sugar, fiber and protein be made available upon request.
Will It Help?

Americans consume about a third of their calories from food prepared away from home so restaurant meals do offer a significant opportunity to provide a “teachable moment” in nutrition education. Moore explains, “Having nutrition information on hand allows you opt for one instead of two slices of cheese, skip the sauce, use less salad dressing or opt for a lower calorie offering.” Studies conducted in California and New York City, where restaurant labeling is already required, found that point-of-purchase nutrition facts may result in the selection of healthier meals. Women tend to use the information more than men. Many major chain restaurants and health focused eateries already voluntarily provide menu nutrition facts on websites and some right on the menu, but new federal guidelines aim to offer a standardized format so that diners can more easily compare apples to apples or apple pie to apple pie. Even with those suggested improvements- it’s complicated.

-What Might Be Missing- Pay close attention to how the menu item is defined. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to list nutrition information for sandwiches without including cheese, mayo and special sauces. EntrĂ©e Salads may not include calories in the salad dressing you add later. Moore says, “Obviously these add significant calories, fat and sodium to the total.”
- The Fudge Factor - Keep in mind that the nutrition information may not be perfect. There’s a proposed +/- 20% margin of error allowance. This accounts for the human influence in preparation and variations in product composition, analysis methods and databases. For instance, a cook may decide to add a little more salt or butter to a recipe.
-Your Calorie Cap - Moore says, “In order to use nutrition facts effectively, you need to have a general idea about how many total calories you need to determine how a specific menu choice will fit into your day.” A recent survey found that just 1 of every 8 American adults (12%) knows about how many calories they need in a day. To get an idea about your calorie needs, check out www.mypyramid.gov.