Planning for a Berry Christmas

I was too preoccupied with munching, make that devouring, strawberries and cherries over the last several weeks to do what I ought've. Each bite required a puckered chomp, a kiss that was rewarded by plump flesh dripping with such sweet-tart berry juice, I forgot all thought of tomorrow and ate for today. For right now. Popping cherry after succulent cherry, dangling them from the stem over my mouth, before licking it up and sucking the pit dry. I've gone through several quarts a week.

But I must stop! Not eating them but the one-minded distraction, at least long enough to realize just how precious these gems are. I am afraid I am too late for the cherries. They are a week past prime. Still good. But I am taunted by the memory of last week's.

So, I am determined to not repeat my mistakes with my current obsession: blueberries. Right now, they are fat, sweet and... forgive me but... even a little earthy -- in a good way! Candy with complexity, if you will. Somehow every time I pass by their bowl, a few more end up in my mouth. And I don't want to give them up. I will not give them up.

There is only one solution: I Must Stop Time.

Thankfully, we've made room in our kitchen for one trusty time machine: the freezer. This weekend, I plan to do what I should have done last week with cherries and several weeks ago with strawberries. I am going to rush the farmers' market, and snatch up buckets of local blueberries (and probably some raspberries). I'll time-freeze them in one cup portions in ziploc bags, and then sigh in relief that there will be colorful smoothies, pancakes and muffins through Christmas.

picture by Dan Klimke


Reaching Ripeness

Too much fun. Roger Cohen today riffed on the NYT's recent article about calorie restriction and longevity. (I covered it Friday: Calorie Restriction = Fountain of Youth? Don't Believe the Hype).

He asks, "before everyone holds the French fries," to consider the misery of the starved lab animal.

His op ed is here. My favorite line:

"As Edgar notes in King Lear, 'Ripeness is all.' You don’t get to ripeness by eating apple peel for breakfast."

picture by Elena Snegireva


Pesticides and Brian Damage

Several pesticides, used on soil and/or major crops, are potent neuro-toxins and have been linked with diseases such as Parkinson's for a long time. A study appearing in the July issue of Archives of Neurology has just linked the two with even greater specificity.

The press release
notes that several pesticides known to cause major health problems are now being more tightly regulated. (So, what? people growing up in the forties, fifties and sixties were just unlucky?)

This is what I found as an example of such tighter regulations: In August of 2006, the EPA called for a voluntary cancellation of registrations for the pesticide/neuro-toxin lindane, saying there are now safer alternatives. It has taken us roughly sixty years to realize the problems with lindane; isn't too soon to be calling new alternatives safe?

And, unfortunately for the eaters of today and tomorrow, lindane and other pesticides are considered "persistent organic pollutants" meaning they will continue to accumuate up the food chain for a long time after they have stopped being used.

picture by Ambrogio Corralloni


Pumping Healthy Animals with Medication may be Making us Ill

... and Obama's to the rescue!

This from the NYT:

"The Obama administration announced Monday that it would seek to ban many routine uses of antibiotics in farm animals in hopes of reducing the spread of dangerous bacteria in humans."

The antibiotics make livestock big, fast, and also help them withstand poor, er, wretched, living conditions. They may also be creating health problems for humans, including the rise of antibiotic-resistant bugs such as "flesh-eating bacteria" (covered here by Nicholas Kristof in March).

My only worry is the stipulation that treatment should only stop for healthy animals. Since most animals get sick in CAFOs, and 95 percent of antibiotic use in US livestock is already for "therapeutic use" (2005 data), I can't help but wonder:

Will this proposed ban impact medication rates at all?

picture by Andrzej Tokarski


Calorie Restriction = Fountain of Youth? Don't Believe the Hype

Some biologists are currently in love with this idea that restricting calories, by about 30 percent, will prolong life. They have found correlations of such in spiders, rodents and, most recently, rhesus monkeys. While I agree eating too much can cause extra wear and tear on your body, I doubt the long-term, real-life (as opposed to lab life) benefits of the CR movement.

The meals lab monkeys usually eat is likely of poor quality, especially for their activity level. In the experiment covered today by the NYT, the non-dieting monkeys were allowed "free rein" of food options, and we all know boredom, as expected in a captivity, is an impetus to eat. If you look at the photos here, the monkey not on the diet -- the one with the shorter expected life span -- looks clearly overweight. (Surprise, these monkeys were the only ones with a susceptibility to diabetes.)

It's not that dieting make you healthy, it's that eating too much makes you sick.

Reviewing 11 studies on calorie restriction in HUMANS, the Journal of the American Medical Association in March 2007, concluded that, despite some benefits on the moderate side, extreme dieting results in bone and muscle wasting, fatigue, a compromised immune system, infertility, constipation, dizziness and other signs of poor health. Aside from the obvious argument that this is no way to live, especially for a long time, in real life, these symptoms are associated with decreased vitality and productivity as well as a greater vulnerability to disease. (How good would those monkeys be at defending their turf, if they have weak muscles, a bad cold and are overwhelmingly sleepy?)

The argument that starvation sends out protection signals to the brain is interesting and seems, at an extreme level, mostly to make an animal calm and focused on obtaining food. Which, like most things in biology, makes a ton of sense for survival.

But the human brain is also extremely vulnerable to a lack of calories. Humans did not have their huge brain spurt, evolutionarily speaking, until we figured out how to get a steady and plentiful supply of calories. (That said, the brain is also adversely affected by too much food.)

Exactly how many calories is optimum for health is still a matter of debate -- and likely hugely variable depending on the individual. But one thing seems clear, despite the way it is portrayed in the NYT and elsewhere:

It's not that dieting makes you healthy, it's that eating too much makes you sick.

picture © Guilu