Daily Dish

The inside scoop on food in Los Angeles

Category: Health

Coconut water: Seeking magic in a shell?

Water300You can drink coconut water because it tastes good. You can drink it because it's the trendy new beverage showing up on supermarket shelves.

Or you can drink coconut water for the same reason I do. (I drink it because Madonna does, and I want those biceps.)

Just don't drink it because you think it's healthy: "There's nothing magical about coconut water," says Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC Davis. Read more in today's Science Files: "Coconut water: A health drink that's all it's cracked up to be?"


-- It's time to turn the table on "Chopped" judges

-- 10 Mardi Gras recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

-- Fig & Olive celebrates with a splashy opening

-- Breaking down a bell pepper

-- Rene Lynch
twitter / renelynch

Photo: Larry Crowe /Associated Press

Breaking news: Marijuana gives you the munchies

Our neighbors to the north have concluded that marijuana makes you hungry and gives you the munchies. The study out of the University of Alberta found that small doses of marijuana's active ingredient, THC, boost the appetite of terminal cancer patients.

Now, there's nothing funny about cancer. But there is something funny about the need to study this, am I right?

Researcher Wendy Wismer gets the joke. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence concerning marijuana's effect on the desire for food, a.k.a. the munchies, she said. But she defended her pilot study as being the first to be conducted under rigorous, double-blind scientific controls.

In other Canadian research news, drinking alcohol can be good for you. You might even call it "healthy": Two studies from the University of Calgary have concluded that moderate alcohol consumption can cut the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by up to 25% compared with people who don't drink at all. Apparently, the alcohol helps increase levels of "good" cholesterol, which in turn helps reduce heart disease.

We're going to reserve judgment on all these studies -- we will leave that to our brainiac colleagues who run our Health section.

But we will leave you with this recipe for midnight chocolate brownie bites from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen


--Browse hundreds of recipes from the L.A. Times Test Kitchen

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles TImes

Enjoy the rest of your weekend: New government diet guidelines land Monday

Yes, the Dietary Guidelines are coming!

I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself all weekend because those meanies at the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services are waiting till Monday to release them.

As to what they will contain: I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the guidelines will tell us to eat lots of fruits and vegetables, possibly in a rainbow of colors.

-- Rosie Mestel

Photo: The Dietary Guidelines invariably recommend we eat more produce than most Americans do. Credit: Beth Hall / Bloomberg News

New Year, a new challenge

L.A. blogger Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules struck a chord when he threw down the gauntlet in October and challenged readers to join him for 31 consecutive days of unprocessed eating during a month normally known for bowls and bowls of Halloween candy. More than 400 people signed the pledge, while scores more tagged along the best they could. “What was great about it is that it struck up a conversation," Wilder said. "People were really looking at labels.”

But some of those pledgers -- myself included -- struggled at times with the guidelines calling for a moratorium on any processed food, defined as anything that could not reasonably be made in the average home kitchen. Some complained that it was all too hard, too expensive and too confusing. (On more than one occasion I found myself standing in my kitchen pondering the likes of Genoa salami, soy milk and even coffee. Could I really roast coffee beans in my kitchen?)

Well, Wilder is trying to make it easier this time around. Starting Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011, readers are challenged to follow just three rules for one month:

--When eating grains, eat 100% whole grains (100% whole wheat flour, quinoa, etc.). 

--Avoid high fructose corn syrup. (Wilder doesn't label HFCS as evil, just a handy indicator that the food item is likely to be heavily processed.)

--And avoid hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and fried foods like the plague.

But before you say, "How in the world is this any easier!?!?" know that there is a golden rule: One day a week, you can "cheat."

If this sounds like an awfully lenient way to clean up your act in 2011, you're right.

Wilder is not about diets or calories or demonizing sugar. In fact, he ate his share –- and then some -– of Christmas cookies this holiday season. The point is to pay attention to what we're eating, Wilder said. Take French fries. Everyone loves them, right? And they're everywhere. In fact, more often than not, they're on our lunch plate. And, more often than not, they're soggy, or cold, and not all that good. So, Wilder said, skip those not-worth-it fries and instead have a salad or some other side with your sandwich. And then, when your freebie meal comes around once a week, make it your mission to seek out the best fries in town -- or make your own -- and then gleefully enjoy every bite. No guilt necessary.

"I believe in eating 'better,' not 'best,'" Wilder said. "This is all a work in progress. Diet and food is intensely personal, and intensely complicated, and what's right is different for everybody."

He’s hoping once again to generate conversation, and the challenge is open to everyone, and especially welcome are those who are confused by the whole thing and don’t know where to begin. They'll find a supportive online community willing to answer questions and share their wisdom, with Wilder as Chief Hand Holder.

He said he thought long and hard about launching a January challenge. "I don't want to be a stunt blogger, I don't want to be seen as gimmicky." But the reaction to Unprocessed October leads him to believe that there are others out there who are looking for an interactive community that can share struggles, tips, food epiphanies and, perhaps most important, delicious recipes.

"I always make it clear, I'm not a health food guy, I'm a healthy foodie, and there is so much to learn out there, we are all learning every day. So we might as well do it together.”

So, what do you think? Are you up for the challenge? I'm in -- and I'm looking for recommendations for the best French fries in town.

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo credit: Bubbo tubbo

Drinking water crisis: A California town fights back

More than a million Californians live in places where tap water isn't reliably safe to drink, and about a third of them are in small, mostly Latino towns such as Seville in the San Joaquin Valley. Many residents of those communities -- some of the state's poorest -- ignore the often contradictory water-quality notices and spend extra money for bottled water for cooking and drinking. Read more at our green blog, Greenspace:

Becky Quintana, a school bus driver in Seville, Calif., empties her home water filter to show the algae, sand and other pollutants in her town's system. She says it's also polluted with pesticides and fertilizers that make it unhealthy for domestic use. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Hunting down the greenest lunchbox

Lunchboxes Writer Heather John was on the hunt for the ultimate lunchbox -- something eco-friendly, low-maintenance, functional, BPA-free and with waste-free containers that were reusable. (No plastic baggies need apply.)

Did we mention this was for her 2-year-old? Read on about the lengths John went to find the perfect lunchbox -- and check out this photo gallery of lunchboxes that might do the trick for you.

Photo: LL Bean lunchbox, $12.95. Made from polyurethane-coated nylon, with an easy-to-clean, BPA-free, PVC-free lining. Credit: LL Bean

On a low-carb diet? You may live longer if you make it vegetable-based

If you're thinking of jumping on the low-carb-diet bandwagon or have already jumped, consider this: New research reveals that vegetable-based low-carb diets may be linked with lower overall mortality rates and lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Read more in today's Health section.

Photo credit: David Karp / For The Times



Shaping how Americans eat: the debate rages

Berriesbeans The U.S. government's "new" dietary guidelines are largely filled with stuff we've all heard before: Most American adults are overweight, and the nation's children are on a similar trajectory, and they advise Americans to shift away from a diet rich in animal products and toward a plant-based diet. It also recommends that we also slash our salt intake by almost a third and exercise more. Sounds pretty common sense, right? But still, a debate rages:

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch


The questionable diet claims about 'resistant starches'

A closer look: Pesticides in strawberry fields

There's an identity crisis in the produce aisle

Eagerly-awaited fruits arriving in the farmers market -- NOW

Top photo: Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty Images

Bottom photo: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

Top Chefs tackle school lunch


Attention on childhood nutrition has been mounting recently: A growing number of school gardens have been planted, alternative lunch programs have been kick-started, the first lady has planted a White House garden and the Obama administration has proposed the Child Nutrition Act. Last night, "Top Chef" jumped on board to take a stand, too.

Sam Kass, who works the White House kitchen along with Cristeta Comeford, served as the guest judge. He's certainly familiar with the subject matter, since first lady Michelle Obama is a champion for the cause.

But before tackling the big issue, the chefs hit the quickfire, where they were challenged to make sandwiches, Siamese style. The contestants were conjoined by aprons that allowed each of them to use only one hand. The task seemed more suited to a team-building seminar than to cooking, but watching the chefs fumble around was entertaining.

Clearly not aware that bleached Wonder bread is not only devoid of nutrition but also disgusting, Jacqueline and Steve opted to make a boring chicken and avocado sandwich on white, while Alex screeched in fear of Tim slicing his hand off when cutting some bread for their croque madame. Some of the more tantalizing offerings included Kenny and Arnold's curry-rubbed chicken with honey, sambal, cucumber, mint, dill and cilantro and Angelo and Tracy's winning Thai-style flounder sandwich with siracha mayo and pickled red onions. Team Angelo won (again!), leaving Kenny in second, a place he's all too familiar with.

For the elimination challenge, the chefs headed off to an elementary school and were given the budget of $130 for 50 students-- a treat compared with the estimated $1 per child that is allotted for ingredients in school lunches today. They were grouped in teams of four, and each person was responsible for a dish on the tray. During prep time, Kelly made it very clear that she had no intention of working as a team, which stirred up some classic catty drama with Arnold and the rest of the gang.

There were some really dopey choices for the kids' menu -- i.e. Amanda using a bulk of her team's budget to buy sherry for her chicken instead of vegetables, Angelo's team using only one dinky slice of celery for their veggie offering, and Ed making a sweet potato puree that was entirely too spicy.

Jacqueline, who was seen earlier in the episode cooking her brekky with an entire block of butter, decided that since her banana pudding was too starchy, adding 2 pounds of sugar would be the solution. Weren't we trying to ameliorate childhood obesity? That's like instant diabetes!

The judges decided that mistake was irreparable and sent Jacqueline and her sacks of sugar packin'. Kelly and her carnitas broke Angelo's undefeated status, crushing his dream of perfection and thoroughly ticking off the rest of her team. 

-- Krista Simmons


Calorie limits in school lunches are recommended

Congress may bolster school lunch nutrition

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Follow me on Twitter @kristasimmons

Photo credit: NBC UMV

Combo Plate: Eating up the Lakers, Engagement Chicken, free knives and more


--Here's the problem: If you read Bill Plaschke's column Thursday, you know that this L.A. Lakers / Boston Celtics championship will be decided within 48 minutes, if not sooner. That doesn't leave much time to indulge in Staples Center Executive Chef Pilar Sanchez's revamped playoffs menu. A lifelong Lakers fan, Pilar named dishes after current and former Lakers faves, including: Kung Pau Jidori Chicken Breast, Mini Kobe Beef Sliders, A.C. Green Salad with Wilted Arugula and, in a nod to Chick Hearn, the Jell-O Is Starting to Set Shooters made with sparkling wine, fruit Jell-O with seasonal berries and Chantilly cream. There are also Baby Back to Back to Back Ribs and the L.A. Dawg, above, a specialty hot dog topped with yellow mustard and purple onions. (Get it? Purple and yellow.) If you have access to the Chairman's Lounge, you can try specialty drinks named after the starting five including the Spanish Fly, in honor of Pau Gasol. It includes brandy, Kahlua and Baileys.

--You should be happy that Ree Drummond (a.k.a. The Pioneer Woman) is having a lousy week: It's one of the reasons why she's giving way a free set of Wusthof knives. [The Pioneer Woman Cooks]

--"If you're eating non-organic celery today, you may be ingesting 67 pesticides with it, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group." [CNN]

--Clever: Hyperion and Glamour magazine are launching a series of books aimed at the magazine's 12 million female readers. First up: "Engagement Chicken and 99 Other Recipes to Get Everything You Want Out of Life" will be written by the magazine's editor in chief, Cindi Levine, and is scheduled for Valentine's Day 2011. [Publishers Weekly]

And if you do not know what Engagement Chicken is, click here.

--Beans and greens collide this summer. [The Orange County Register]

--Amusing mash-up of Judy Garland ostensibly shilling for Cream of Wheat. (It will leave you wondering "How did they do that!?") [Brand X]

--If you don't have playoff tickets, you can also try toasting your team with a Purple & Yellow Cocktail now being served at Morton's steakouses in Burbank, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Woodland Hills. They kindly agreed to pass the recipe along. Click below for the ingredients and a pic.

--Rene Lynch

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Daily Dish is written by Times staff writers.