EAT, DRINK AND BEWARE

by Dave Trecker

They say you are what you eat. If so, in Naples you can be any number of things, because we have so many eateries here, many of them world class and more are opening every month. And for us home chefs, there is a growing choice of ingredients, both fresh and frozen, from all over the world.

Moreover, we’re given lots of advice on what’s good for us and what isn’t. Blue Zone says eats plenty of beans. The World Health Organization says stay away from hot dogs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, again and always, says eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

Trouble is the advice changes. What’s “au courant” today may be lethal tomorrow.

Here are some recent findings:

The best form of protein, no surprise, is from plants, not animals. And that, according to a Harvard study, significantly reduces the risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Nuts, beans, seeds and soy foods are richest in protein. And, if you’re looking to cut calories, do it with low-carb/high-protein foods. Testing shows that takes off pounds without sacrificing muscle mass.

Of the protein-rich veggies, the hottest today are the so called pulses – beans, peas, lentils. They can be cooked, mashed into hummus, extruded into pasta, pressed and roasted into chips. There are currently more than 2,700 store-shelf products made of, or containing pulses, most in snack foods catering to a young, health-conscious clientele. Old folks eat them too. My wife, who has a gluten allergy, and I eat crackers and chips made from chickpeas. A bit salty, but not bad.

Another high-protein family is nuts, with their a seeming endless variety. Today, the big mover is the almond, versatile enough to be eaten as a snack, incorporated into candy (think Almond Joy), even emulsified into milk. With central California unable meet demand, inventors are pumping money into Australia, which already has more than 10 million almond trees.

Then there are the spices. Turmeric gets kudos for its medical benefits, but the latest shout out goes to cinnamon. University of Michigan researchers found that cinnamaldehyde, the main flavorant in cinnamon, boosts metabolism of fat cells and, as such, may ward off obesity.

The next big thing at Starbuck’s may be cinnamon shakes for weight loss.

What about salt that much maligned flavorant? Sodium chloride has been under fire for years for worsening hypertension. Now, German researchers have found that high levels of salt deactivate certain gut bacteria, in turn lowering resistance to several diseases, at least in mice. So the risk of using salt goes up a notch. But it may be worth the risk.

Have you ever eaten low-salt cheese or salt-free bread? Flavored cardboard tastes better.

Here’s more bad news. We just learned that coffee contains carcinogens. That’s right. A federal judge in California is about to rule on whether coffee should be labeled a cancer risk. The coffee bean, it turns out, has small amounts of acrylamide, one of over 900 chemicals known to promote certain kinds of cancer. Ouch.

We might be able to cut back on salt, but few of us can function without coffee.

There’s another problem. Coffee is becoming scarce. Climate change is threatening the Arabica plant, source of the world’s most prized java. Rising temperatures and reduced rainfall are shrinking land in Central and South America and parts of Africa that’s suitable for growing the best coffee beans. So, get ready for higher prices as plant breeders try to find hybrids that both resist drought and produce a decent brew. Not everything is grim.

Here’s some particularly good news. Booze is good for you! A study of more than 300,000 adults confirmed what many of us have known for years: People who consume alcohol live longer than teetotalers. There is one catch. Drinking a little is good; drinking a lot is bad. What’s the limit? For men, two pops a day. For women, only one.

Finally, the best news of all. Research at the University of California-Irvine showed that the combination of drinking alcohol and coffee – again in moderation – improves general health and longevity. A bloody Mary at lunch followed by a double espresso can propel you to age 90 and beyond.

Bottoms up!

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