We’ve gone off the deep end with shrubs. I’ve talked about this once already, and now we’ve got about six in the refrigerator, with many more on the way. They really are lovely with just ice and sparkling water, but it’s Friday, and we’d like a little something that’s appropriate for happy hour.
So here we present you with a Shrub Bramble, which lends itself to being called a “Shramble” if you like silly names. This recipe replaces the lemon juice that is normally in a Bramble with a lemon shrub. The shrub we used is mostly lemon with bit of lime and uses white wine vinegar, which is subtle and allows the citrus to shine though. Like any shrub in a cocktail, this lemon adds a depth and complexity to one of the main flavors.
The Bramble has a whole history that goes along with it, that I won’t do justice if I attempt to recount. If you want more info, check out the explanation from the guys at Gin Foundry and Dillford’s Guide. We started with the Dillford’s recipe and adjusted to our taste.
In a previous post, I talked about what inspired me to do my thesis on food and cooking. Now that it’s done and turned in, I thought I’d adapt some portions of my writing and focus on them here. One of the first, and most significant topics when talking about our food, is that of food processing.
Scientists, doctors, nutritionists and health organizations all acknowledge that the production and consumption of processed food and drinks are important causes in the current pandemic of obesity and related chronic diseases.1
As food writer Michael Pollan so eloquently puts it, big food corporations “cook very differently from how people do (which is why we usually call what they do ‘food processing’ instead of cooking). They tend to use much more sugar, fat and salt than people cooking for people do; they also deploy novel chemical ingredients seldom found in pantries in order to make their food last longer and look fresher that it really is”.2
These novel techniques and ingredients, along with excessive amounts of sugar, fat and salt, create a diet that health professionals describe as “intrinsically nutritionally unbalanced and intrinsically harmful to health”.3
Shall I go on? OK, I will…
Carlos A. Monteiro, Director of the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at the University of Sao Paulo, proposes that the amount of processing our food undergoes is what determines how healthy or unhealthy it will be, not the food itself, nor its nutrient parts.
Across the globe, government food recommendations do not recognize this difference, and as a result, food like whole fresh fruit, fruit canned in sugary syrup and reconstituted sugary fruit beverages all get classified as “fruit”.4
Side note: A 2010 study found that the diets of nearly the entire US population did not fall within federal dietary recommendations. So, even with sugary fruit beverages being classified as fruits, we still do not meet the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Monteiro argues that most food today has some degree of processing and that there is little use in classifying food into only processed and unprocessed groups. Instead, he proposes three levels to describe the drastic differences in processing that occur between, for instance, pre-washed fruit and a gummy fruit snack.
The three categories are:
Group 1: Unprocessed and minimally processed foods: No processing, or mostly physical processes used to make single whole foods more durable, accessible, convenient, palatable or safe. Group 2: Processed culinary or food industry ingredients: Extraction and purification of components of single whole foods, resulting in producing ingredients used in the preparation and cooking of dishes and meals made from Group 1 foods in homes and traditional restaurants, or else in the formulation by manufacturers of Group 3 foods. Group 3: Ultra-processed food products: Processing of a mix of Group 2 ingredients and Group 1 foodstuffs in order to create durable, accessible, convenient, and palatable ready-to-eat or to-heat food products liable to be consumed as snacks or desserts or replace home-prepared dishes.
The groups are described more thoroughly below (from Monteiro’s research) but it’s easy to see that foods like cookies, snacks, pre-prepared meals, processed meat like chicken nuggets and burgers all belong in Group 3.6
He does not propose that healthy diets are made up of entirely unprocessed/minimally processed foods, but rather a healthy balance of the three groups.
The problem is, that across countries like Brazil, the UK and the US, we seem to completely lack the ability to maintain this balance.
In Brazil, ultra-processed (Group 3) foods made up 20% of consumed calories. As income increased, so too did the presence of these ultra-processed foods. In the households with the highest income, nearly one-third of all calories came from ultra-processed foods.7
In the UK, ultra-processed foods made up 45% caloric intake.8
In the United States, the five most commonly consumed foods were all considered Group 3 foods: sodas, cakes and pastries, burgers, pizza and potato chips. These five foods alone made up 20% of the total calories consumed in the United States.9
A similar study in Canada showed that 61.7% of dietary energy consumed came from ultra-processed foods and that 80% of the Canadian population had diets consisting of more than 50% of ultra-processed foods in terms of caloric intake.10
Yeah? So what does that mean?
Monteiro’s claim that the act of processing food is a culprit in our rapid decline in health is being confirmed more specifically in subsequent studies. One recent study showed a link between two commonly used emulsifiers and the development of metabolic syndrome and low-grade inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract of mice.11
Emulsifiers can be found in nearly all processed food and are used to prevent ingredients like fats and oils from separating. They go by many names, but some of the common ones are: polysorbate 80, lecithin, carrageenan, polyglycerols and xanthan gum. The “metabolic syndrome” that these items are linked to is a term used to describe a group of risk factors, including high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure and high blood sugar, as well as obesity. Someone with metabolic syndrome is more likely to develop more serious health issues like type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems like heart attacks and strokes.12
The addition of emulsifiers is by no means the only cause of obesity, but the inflammation that it causes in the gastrointestinal tract appears to interfere with the feeling of “being full” while eating.13 Not feeling full often leads to overeating and, in turn, the development of more fat.
So what can I do about it?
Simple! First, decrease, limit and/or eliminate ultra-processed foods from what you eat. It has clear benefits in preventing disease and promoting general well being, Monteiro says.14
Second, even with the downward trend of cooking, more than two-thirds of caloric intake for adults in the US still occurs in the home.15 Therefore, the most good can be done by focusing on food and meals we consume at home.
I think these point to a clear path forward: cut down on processed foods by cooking more at home. It is one of the easiest daily acts we can do to improve our health.
Numerous studies have the same conclusion, one even suggesting that, “Efforts to boost the healthfulness of the US diet should focus on promoting the preparation of healthy foods at home while incorporating limits on time available for cooking”.16
An increase in cooking at home has been shown to relate directly to a decrease in Body Mass Index (BMI),17 and lower BMI decreases the risk other health issues like diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and many types of cancer.18
So what are you waiting for? Put down the fast food and the pre-packaged meals and make your next meal from simple, fresh ingredients.
If you want to read my Masters Thesis in its entirety, you can download it in the Download section. You can also see a shorter slide show here. Enjoy!
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but we like food. We like to cook, we like to eat and we like to break bread with others. We generally can’t have a meal without reminiscing about a meal in the past, or the potential of another in the future. Look at our Instagram accounts on the right side of the page. Is there anything non-consumable in there? And, you know, we have a food blog that you happen to be reading right now.
Food is a daily necessity for all of us, but some people enjoy the experience more than others. For some, thinking of what to eat is torture, and they long for the meal pill from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For others, each step from coming up with the idea to savoring the flavor of a meal is a joy. Lots of us fall somewhere in between, but last year, I decided to explore this a little bit.
A year ago I starting doing a Masters program here in Barcelona, a significant part of which is a thesis on a topic of my choice. I’m not a betting man, but I’ll give you one guess what my topic was. If you said food, you are correct. Extra credit if you guessed cooking, which is more correct.
The reasons I wanted to focus on cooking can be distilled down to exactly two things: health statistics in the US, and Michael Pollan’s book, Cooked.
For one of my presentations I made the slide below compiling some heath statistics from, to name a few, the National Institute of Health, the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention ( a .pdf can be found here).
These numbers gave me pause. For reference, according the US Census Bureau there are about 316 million people in the US. To say that one-third of the adult population in the US is obese (i.e. a Body Mass Index of 30+) is to say that nearly 77 million of our countrymen and woman are dangerously unhealthy and are at high risk things for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer.
Apart from the health effects and costs for the individual (and family), these statistics call into light the health of our nation. As a guy who was in the Navy for 7+ years, I wonder who will be capable of defending us and protecting us? Who will be our firefighters, police officers, paramedics, emergency services and serve in our armed forces if two-thirds of us are obese or overweight?
The obesity epidemic (that is what they are calling it now) is surely a combination of many factors, but as Michael Pollan puts it in his book, our food, and the industrialization of our food production, is a very big culprit. Corporations, he says, “cook very differently from how people do…They tend to use much more sugar, fat, and salt than people cooking for people do.”
I don’t mean to paint a grim picture because, ultimately this a story of hope. If high levels of sugar, fat and salt from industrial foods are to blame for our health, then all we need to do is to cut down on, or eliminate them.
The easiest and simplest way to do this is to cook for ourselves. Skip the complicated stuff, the calorie counting, the”fat-free,” the fad diets, the cleanses and the deprivation. If we do nothing else other then cook more often, we will be doing a whole lot better than we are today.
I also don’t mean to over-simplify the issue, because there are lots of moving parts and factors involved in making a meal, but I think it’s a good and manageable place to start.
This is what inspires me, and this is what I built my thesis around. More on that coming soon, and I’ll explain how I ended up with #cookingcouplets.
If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, you would probably also enjoy:
Cooked by Michael Pollan. I’ve discussed it here, but the whole book is fascinating. The intro is available for free download if you follow the link above.
Fed Up– Katie Couric is one of the executive producers of this documentary, and many big names in health and food make appearances.