Dec
28
2013

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

Travelling for pleasure is usually something we eagerly anticipate: it can associate with a long wished for vacation, meeting family and friends, enjoying a different environment, in short: there is a bit of adventure attached to it.

Getting something to eat while you are in transit, however, can be a different story. Let me share a recent experience that my wife and I had on a transcontinental flight.

We had to get up shortly after 4 AM, and knowing that we would be in transit till later that evening we decided to prepare an early breakfast. As we usually do, we packed some plastic bags with travel snacks and stashed them away into our back packs: walnuts, almonds, apples, some cheese, some hard boiled eggs and a chocolate bar (70 % cocoa) for an indulgent dessert. It felt a bit unusual to sit down to a vegetable omelet, enjoy some berries and nuts and fix a cup of Americano at 5 in the morning, but we got over the early hour and enjoyed our breakfast. It was a good start to cope with a three-hour time switch that awaited us at the end of the trip.

After checking in at the airport we were greeted with the pleasant news, that our seat arrangement had been upgraded: we would travel first class, as they could not accommodate us in economy. To complete the sense of unexpected luxury, a full breakfast would be included. We did not expect any gourmet fare, but it was welcome news. After some time the flight attendants started to serve the meal. The choices were a cereal bowl or a scrambled egg skillet southwestern style for breakfast. My readers know already that I do not hold the breakfast cereal in high esteem. Cereal has the undesirable effect of sending blood sugar levels to unhealthy highs and as a result causing insulin spikes, so it is not a prudent choice in the first place. We asked for the scrambled eggs, cautiously enquiring: ‘What is in it?”

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

We were informed that it would be scrambled eggs with some black beans, green and red peppers, ham, onion and some cheese. It sounded really good, and we felt like a glutton having eaten a substantial breakfast at home and now getting some more! It turned out to be a bit different. The meal arrived. It was a flat skillet dish, which consisted of a thick layer of potato cubes held together by a yellow substance, which could not really be described as scrambled eggs. About half a dozen cubes of peppers were identifiable along with a few black beans. I started mining for onions and ham and tried to dig out the egg. It was virtually impossible! The amount of egg that I could retrieve was not more than 1 level tablespoon, and there were a few tiny specks of ham. My wife had the same experience. Needless to say, the skillets were almost full of potatoes, when we sent them back. The flight attendant came through one more time and offered a basket of croissants and buns to complete the breakfast, which we politely refused. As you see, we did not have any need to feel guilty about ingesting a second breakfast onboard, as this meal was simply unsuitable for anybody who was seeking balance in nutrition. To make it short: it is almost exclusively overfeeding the consumer with a load of dense carbohydrates (potatoes, croissants and buns), neglects a sensible amount of protein, and omits any healthy fat source. Out of sheer curiosity I flicked through the pages of an in-flight magazine that listed the foods that could be purchased on board for lunch. The results were not inspiring. There was an assortment of snack foods: potato chips, pretzels, super-size chocolate chip cookies, a candy bar that I had met before on TV and beef jerky. The meal selection featured three types of sandwiches: ham and cheese, brie and turkey breast, and a “loaded” super Italian affair with salami, which looked like a guarantee to a case of indigestion. The cheese plate was sold out and the fresh fruit plate was gone too. Sorry, no luck! As a matter of fact we were lucky and so were all the other passengers who came prepared with a stash of travel foods. When we got hungry towards noon we dug out our travel snacks, drank some water and were quite satisfied.

On our return trip, we traveled economy class (no upgrade to first class food or first class seats this time). It was another lengthy trip coast to coast, and as there were two lengthy layovers, the day was even longer. We arrived at one international airport at the East coast by lunchtime. This time we decided to get a meal at one of the numerous eating establishments. After all, just recently news articles had praised airport restaurants having embraced many healthy food choices. So this would not be airplane food but REAL food! We had some time to walk around and explore, and it turned out, that we certainly needed it! We salivated at the sight of a choice of mahi-mahi with a mixed salad at one café. Cautiously we wondered whether this would be grilled fish. No, we were told, this would be breaded and deep-fried! And it would not be offered in any other way. Too bad, this was not really what we wanted! An Asian food outlet offered a buffet-style assortment of food. It did look very good, and we loved the chicken and vegetable choice or the beef and broccoli with mushroom dish. It did look fresh and appetizing. Often Asian foods can contain MSG. We wanted to make sure that this substance would not be in the food at this place. Sorry, we were told, all the meats and vegetables did contain MSG! Monosodium glutamate is not a harmless flavor enhancer. It belongs into the group of excitotoxins. The substance can destroy brain cells. It also has the potential to give you a nasty headache, especially if larger quantities are used. We were looking for food minus a headache, so we walked away once again and looked for more. An Italian bistro offered the usual suspects: piles of pasta and pizza! And there was a bakery with towering-high tortes, cinnamon buns, and muffins. It was overfeeding of the already carbo-holic individual and under nourishing the traveller. Sad!

After this expedition through the terminal we did finally find a meal that would sustain us until the evening. It was a pre-packaged Thai salad. It was certainly nothing fancy, but it contained a large amount of lettuce and other salad vegetables, offered a small but appropriate amount of cooked shredded real chicken, not some processed salty fake meat, and a small container of salad dressing on the side. It was enough to feel pleasantly full without feeling stuffed and good enough to keep us going till the evening.

Yes, we really wanted a touch of luxury for dessert! We thought of the duty free shop and envisioned a square or two of sinfully dark chocolate. Actually, this is not sinful at all! Have a piece of chocolate with over 70 % cocoa content or even 85%. It is not bitter, but an explosion of flavor on your taste buds, and it happens to be a source of anti-oxidants and bioflavonoids. It lowers high blood pressure and gobbles up free radicals, and as a result it can protect you from heart disease. One word of caution: use moderate amounts! Two or three squares only, not more, please!

And there was chocolate at the duty-free shop, lots of it! There were praline selections in large varieties, and there were Lindt and Ghirardelli chocolate bars, two well-known brands! We rejoiced…but too early! There were six packs featuring extra-creamy, sea-salt, caramel, chocolate and chili. As we studied the labels it was very obvious, that this was not at all what we were looking for! One bar in six was of excellent quality with a high cocoa percentage. The rest was a “gourmet mix”, all of them with low cocoa percentage and high sugar content, which really means it was useless. Were we willing to waste our money on half a dozen chocolate bars of which just one single bar was the merchandise we wanted? The answer was no! And of course, the package could only be sold this way; sorry, no choice! After leaving the duty free store with all its high-class brands behind, we found a humble news and magazine outlet. It had nice, entertaining reads to shorten the next leg of our journey. And-what a surprise! There was a stack of chocolates by an unknown European manufacturer with an 85 % cocoa content. Lucky us! An interesting magazine and dessert too! Bon voyage!

Conclusion

We do not think that we are the only health conscious persons on the planet. We hope that someone in charge in any airport or in an airline catering company smells a business opportunity. We are not demanding. We just prefer healthy foods and it would be great to find a meal choice with whole foods such as greens, vegetables, wild salmon, organic chicken, or grass-fed antibiotic-free beef. There is no need for anything elaborate. It’s really back to the basics! Even a mixed salad with a healthy protein portion would fit in very well. It is time that not just a few high class chefs around the world take notice of the new changes of a healthy diet that I summarized in this blog recently: “Buying Into High Carb, Low Fat Myth Makes You Sick”. In case you want to read more, I am in the process of publishing a book, which also contains 7 days of healthy menus at the end of it. It will be published early in 2014 through Amazon.com and is entitled: “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging” (addendum Nov.7, 2014: It has been published March 31, 2014).

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Jul
06
2013

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

When your grandmother grew up there was very little convenience food, maybe ketchup and yes, there was processed cheese and coke. There were also bread and butter.

Now we go through a large grocery store and the center of the whole store is occupied by convenience food, row after row.

What is convenience food? It is pre-cooked or processed food that sits on a shelf waiting to be bought and consumed. You may be able to just eat it the way it is (power bars, fruit yoghurt snacks, ice cream, breakfast cereals etc.) or you just have to microwave it for a minute or two (ready made meals, pizzas). Even, if you make a fresh salad, you top it with a salad dressing that has been processed and may contain chemicals that are not necessarily healthy for you.

This blog is meant to make you think and get educated as a consumer. As a physician I am guided by what is healthy for you, but at the same time food needs to be interesting and taste good and be affordable.

As fat, carbohydrates and protein are the main food groups that we eat, I will deal with each of these categories first followed by vitamins and minerals, which we also need.

Fats and oils

Many convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the overall calorie count of the package and are one of the main reasons why we gain weight and deposit fat into our arteries in preparation for a heart attack or stroke down the road. As you may know the worst form of fat is hydrogenated fat, also known as “trans fat”.

It contains free radicals from the hydrogenation process, which damage your cells and interfere with normal body metabolism. Read labels and avoid any foods that have a long shelf life as this is due to hydrogenated fats and chemicals known as food preservatives.

This food group also contains sausages and other processed meat; I wrote a separate blog about this recently.

If you eat cheese, reduce your saturated fat intake by buying cheese with only 18% fat (such as Cantenaar cheese, Jarlsberg light, skim milk mozzarella and goat cheese). Avoid the rich 45% type cheeses. The best oil in your kitchen would be an organic cold pressed olive oil. It figures prominently in Mediterranean cooking.

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

A large portion of snacks from the mid section of the grocery store contains all forms of sugar: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup etc.  You may think that a harmless fruit juice would be healthy until you see from the ingredient list on the label that it contains 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250 ml) of juice.

Unfortunately our body is not equipped to process all the sugar that the food industry wants us to consume and we develop insulin resistance; the liver converts the excess sugars into fat and deposits it into our arteries and as fat deposits between our guts (visceral fat) and as subcutaneous fat in the thighs, around the hips and the waist. It is no secret that a lot of obesity is related to overconsumption of sugar containing convenience foods (snacks and sugar-laden drinks).

Often low calorie alternatives contain aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame is an excitotoxin damaging your brain cells and sucralose was developed in the 1950’s as an insecticide. We do not want to replace disease-promoting sugar with toxins as sweeteners. Safe alternatives for sugar are xylitol, mannitol, and stevia.

What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that your body digests bread, starchy foods such as potatoes, and pasta, rice and flour products like pizza or cookies within 30 minutes into sugar that is as harmful to your pancreas as plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The body reacts with the same overproduction of insulin converting the excess sugar into fat and depositing it in your body as described above. Much of the obesity wave we see in the past 3 decades is due to baked goods like bagels, bread, pasta and pizza. It is much better to enjoy your stevia-sweetened coffee without any bakery pieces to go along with it.

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

You would think that a healthy cut of meat from the grocery store would be a good source of protein for you. You probably did not think that it could be contaminated with a superbug when you bought it. This is especially true for ground meats like hamburger meat. If you bought a portion of organic meat you can be more certain that you are buying a qualitatively superior product. I discussed this whole issue of superbugs in meat and meat products in this blog recently.

We need to be aware of the agroindustry, the feedlots and what they fed the animals. I only buy organic meat and organic dairy products as my source of protein. I avoid sausages altogether because of the food additives that they contain, which are cancer causing.

The problem with prepared meats like chicken nuggets and others is that they contain breading and food preservatives and they have been deep fried, which makes these items an unhealthy choice.

What are some of the problems with dairy products? Despite the allegations that bovine growth hormone would be harmless to your health, your body thinks otherwise. Your body has hormone receptors that are very specific and bovine growth hormone can block them so your own human growth hormone from the pituitary gland cannot function properly. This is why I would recommend only organic milk products. You may have heard that in many European countries bovine growth hormone is banned for that reason.

Next the fat content of dairy products needs to be monitored: go for low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. While we are talking about yoghurt, stay away from fruit yoghurts that have all kinds of sugar and food additives mixed in. Add fruit of your choice and stevia, if you need a sweet taste.

Vitamins and minerals

The more foods are processed, the less natural vitamins and minerals stay behind. Particularly vitamin C and the B complex group are affected, but also magnesium, which is an important co-factor to enzymatic reactions within our cells. Often processed foods contain too much salt with sodium displacing potassium from the cells resulting in a lack of energy and high blood pressure.

Your best prevention is to stick to as little processed food as possible and to eat organic. If you eat enough organic greens and vegetables, there is an ample supply of vitamins and minerals. Prepare your own soups as canned products are high in sodium; another unwanted additive is often sodium glutamate (MSG), which comes under many disguised names. It belongs to the group of excitotoxins like aspartame and is not welcomed by your brain cells.

Public Awareness

Lately there has been more of public interest and awareness to the detrimental effects of convenience foods. Alarming reports about the increase in the obesity rates, the rise in diabetes type 2 even in children have been in the media for some time. The publications are not only North American, but also European, as can bee seen in this link.

New legislation is being introduced in many states of the US regarding school snacks and vending machines in schools.

Not all food news is bad. Recently it was reported that fish oil could protect against the effects of junk food. Omega-3-fatty acids contained in fish oil are helping to rebalance the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6-fatty acids in food, which often is disbalanced towards an overabundance of omega-6 fatty aids in processed foods. Rebalancing the omega3/omega6 ratio in food helps to normalize the metabolism of the brain and prevents hardening of arteries.

What you can do to get healthy food

It starts when you buy food. Read labels and look for calories, sugar, fat and sodium content. You may be surprised how many stores carry organic foods now. The price may not be that much more. There is a useful app for your cell phone, Buycott, that you may want to download. This way you can scan items in the store and find out what ingredients are contained in a particular food item and which company produces it.

With meats it is particularly important to buy organic (because of superbugs and also because of the aspect that feed lot animals often receive antibiotics and hormones). Stick to organics also with vegetables and greens (xenoestrogens in non-organic greens that block hormone receptors). Milk products also need to be organic because of the bovine growth hormone facts mentioned above.

When you eat out, things become more difficult unless you find an organic food restaurant. You can always prepare your own salad for lunch with organic greens and a lean protein food, which you keep refrigerated until you are ready to consume it. On weekends a portable picnic in a park can be a great way to relax and socialize, especially in summer.

More information about nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Jul
01
2008

High-protein, Low-refined carb diet useful in controlling diabetes

Diabetes type 2 is often associated with obesity (body mass index higher than 30.0 kg per meter squared). At the 16th European Congress on Obesity in Geneva Dr. Neil Mann presented a study of 99 patients. Half were put on a high protein diet, the other half on a high carbohydrate low glycemic index diet and followed for one year with periodic blood tests and examinations by their family doctors. The study population’s age ranged from 30 to 75 years and their body mass index varied from 27 to 40. The hemoglobin A1C level that is a measure of severity of the diabetic condition ranged from 6.5% to 10%.

The high-protein diet was structured so that 30% of calories came from protein, 40% came from carbohydrates and 30% came from fat. With the high-carbohydrate low glycemic index diet 15% of the calories came from protein, 55% from low glycemic index carbs and 30% from fat. In both groups the total calorie intake per day was restricted to 1500 calories and the carbohydrates were given as low glycemic index carbohydrates (less processed). In both groups the diabetes was better controlled with hemoglobin A1C, triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels normalizing. Both groups also showed an equal amount of weight loss that stayed down as long the patients adhered to the diet. However, the high-protein group was able to reduce diabetes pills (metformin) and insulin achieving the same results as the high-carbohydrate low glycemic index group that could not reduce their medications. The conventional approach is to use a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet along with medication. However, this diet tends to lead to higher triglyceride levels, higher blood sugar levels and a reduction in the good cholesterol (HDL).

High-protein, Low-refined carb diet useful in controlling diabetes

High-protein, Low-refined carb diet useful in controlling diabetes

Dr. Mann who is a professor and head of the department of nutrition and food science at RMIT University, Melbourne, explained the people get confused when they hear the term high-protein diet as they think of the Atkins diet where the protein component was much higher. The diet that was investigated here is a more natural diet consisting of slightly higher protein and less processed carbohydrates. By containing more fat than in the conventional diabetic diet the patient is not getting hungry and finds it easy to stick to the diet, which leads to weight loss and improvement of the metabolism. Many patients can normalize their blood values and often even get off their diabetic medication (under careful supervision by their treating physician). The physician will address the three components of diabetic control (energy balance, glycemic control, and vascular complications) by recommending to the patient this high-protein/low-carb diet. This likely will replace the conventional approach of using a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

More information about a Mediterranean type diet in firefighter’s, which is very similar to this study: http://nethealthbook.com/news/mediterranean-diet-benefits-us-workers/

Reference: 16th European Congress on Obesity, Geneva June 23, 2008

Last edited November 4, 2014