Chinese Women Don’t Get Fat: Food, Digestion and Oriental Medicine

The topic of food and health has probably become one of the most complex and contradictory areas concerning health. There are so many different theories, viewpoints, diet plans as well as various corporate and industrial forces which have turned what should be a simple thing into an overly complicated topic.

For example, if you see a Western scientific ‘dietician’, a healthy diet is based on consuming adequate amounts of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It does not necessarily matter whether the carbohydrates and vitamins comes from fortified sugary cereal or from sweet potatoes. With a certain degree of opposition, there are the various schools of ‘Nutritionist’, which are generally more imaginative with diets and may promote a more natural nutritional diet based on the consumption of vegetables, pulses, wholegrains and lean meats along with various supplements. Then there are the more specialist nutritionists or naturopaths that may promote certain ways of eating emphasising certain food groups such as high fibre diets, low carbohydrate diets, Candida diets, fasting, food combining or raw food diets. And of course there are the weight loss diets. Diets designed to make us lose weight. It goes without saying that such diets are not popular in developing countries.

There are so many diets. Just to name a few – there is the Palaeolithic diet, the Food combining diet, the Weight Watchers diet, the F plan, the Exclusion diet, the Zone diet, the Atkins diet, the Okinawa diet, the Eskimo diet, the Dukan diet, the Apple a day diet, the Banana diet, the Grapefruit diet, the South Beach diet, the Cabbage soup diet, Juice fasting, the Specific carbohydrate diet, the Gluten free diet, the Warrior diet, the Alkaline diet, the Blood type diet, the Dr Hay diet, the Macrobiotic diet, the Candida diet, the High protein diet, the Low protein diet, the High carbohydrate diet, the Low carbohydrate diet, the French women don’t get fat diet, the Low glycemic index diet, Raw foodism, the Sugar busters diet, there’s even a Junk food diet. The list is endless. I found over 400 different diets – most of them related to losing weight but some of them were about improving a health condition or simply to improve general health.

Maybe, just as the final curtain is drawn on the last of human civilisation, there will be as many diets in existence as there are stars in the sky.

And so just to confuse things even more, I will talk about the Oriental medicine diet.

In the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) system of Oriental medicine, food is classified with different energetic qualities. They can be heating – they put heat in the body. Or cooling – in that they cool the body. They may also be damp forming – causing phlegm, mucous or weight gain. Some foods increase the yang energy of the body and others nourish the yin. Some foods may be considered neutral. Basically all food has energetic qualities, which affect the body in different ways.

Foods that are considered heating are spices, red meat and lamb. Cooling foods are typically raw foods like cucumber, egg plant and raw fish. Damp forming foods are dairy, oil and sugar.

Some foods tonify or weaken certain organs, For example, the sweet taste affects the spleen and stomach, which governs the digestive system. Naturally sweet foods like grains – both white and brown tonify the spleen and stomach. However, excessively sweet foods like refined sugar, candies and cakes can weaken it.

The yin and yang of foods has many aspects and is not altogether that simple. One way of looking at yin foods is that they increase the yin aspects of the body like the blood and flesh. Therefore proteins like meat and fish may be considered yin. Foods that increase energy quickly may be considered yang such as alcohol or refined sugar. However, as discussed in the article on yin and yang, everything is relative. So for example, although meat may be considered yin, red meats are considered more yang compared to white meats and fish may be considered more yin than white meats, which relatively speaking are yang. Make sense?

Foods are grouped by colour according to the theory of Five elements. For example, the colour white is said to resonate with the metal element and in particular the lung and large intestine – so white colour foods may be beneficial to the lungs – like cauliflower or white rice. Green tonifys the wood element – the liver, so green leafy vegetables may be beneficial to the liver.

Foods are grouped by shape. The kidney bean resembles the human kidney and so is said to tonify the kidneys. The walnuts look like the brains and are said to tonify the brain.

Like fixes like. Offal meat like animal liver, kidney and intestines are said to nourish the corresponding human equivalent. Pig blood (Black pudding) can nourish human blood.

Foods are classified by action. For example, spicy foods encourage perspiration and sweating. If we have stagnant energy such as having poor circulation or being overweight – then some spicy foods can move the circulation and encourage the opening of the pores. Although, this can be a quick fix to the underlying problem. Too much yang (spicy foods) can eventually lead to too much yin (mucous, phlegm and excess weight) in the body undermining it.

Damp forming foods cause damp in the body. This can be thought of as phlegm or mucus. Some people are intolerant to dairy or wheat and when they eat it they may find a build up of phlegm and mucus in the throat or even in the stool.

How foods are cooked also affects their energetic qualities. For example, fried, barbecued and grilled foods involve using more intense heat in a shorter period of time and has a searing effect on the food. They are consider to be more yang compared to boiling or steaming, which tends to soften the food and is considered a more yin method. In particular, frying especially deep fat frying has both a yang heating and damp forming effect on food due to the combination of heat and oil (a damp food). Deep fat fried foods may be very hard for people with weak digestive systems to digest. An excess of this kind of food can lead to what in TCM is described as damp heat in the body. Damp heat refers to any kind of puss-filled inflammation or painful inflammation. We see this in the adolescent fast food employee who eats free hamburgers and fries every day for lunch and suffers from cystic acne. We see this in the middle aged person who eats fried rump steaks, ribs and fried chicken everyday and suffers from swollen joints. A historical example of damp heat would be the condition of gout – a painful arthritic condition, which affects the foot. It was called the “king of diseases and the disease of kings” or “the rich man’s disease”. When King Henry VIII wasn’t busy destroying the church and beheading wives, he was famous for suffering from this ‘damp-heat’ condition which is associated with an extreme excess of rich foods and alcohol.

There are other various principles – a little of one flavour can strengthen an organ or body function. So a little sweet (from grains) can tonify the spleen and stomach. A little of the bitter flavour – tonifys the heart; a little pungent tonifys the lung, sour tonifys the liver, salty tonifys the kidneys. However, too much of a flavour can weaken the same organ. Too much sugar (refined sugar) weakens the digestion. Too much pungent (curry) weakens the lungs. Some people after eating strong curry may get a lot of mucus in their throat afterwards.

There is a debate over raw and cooked foods. In Chinese food therapy, it is recommended to cook foods. This contrasts with the Western raw food movement – especially popular in California, which claims that the cooking process ‘denatures’ food and destroys raw enzymes. However, not everyone can tolerate raw foods. Raw foods can lead to stomach aches and excess flatulence in people with less than robust digestive systems.

Other issues are vegetarianism and fasting. Despite the proximity of India and China and the transfer of ideas which had gone on for centuries between the two countries, there are some fundamental differences concerning eating habits and diet. In traditional Indian medicine, fasting (the abstinence of food for a short period of time) is practiced to rest the digestive system and to detoxify the body. However, in Chinese dietetics, fasting is discouraged as it is seen as weakening the digestive system. Instead simple, plain, easy digestible foods and herbal teas are recommended for sickness. Vegetarianism is also a common part of the Indian diet. However, vegetarianism is not so common in mainland China. There is an infamous quote by Prince Philip, when he was commenting on the Chinese eating habits to the World Wildlife conference in 1986. Typical of Prince Phillip, it is offensive and shows that wealth and privilege does not necessarily confer humility and respect for others.

“If it has got four legs and is not a chair, if it has two wings and it flies but is not an aeroplane, and if it swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it”.

With the exception of Taoists and monks, Chinese are not generally vegetarian. Meat tonifys both the yang and yin and is seen as an essential part of a healthy diet. In the Chinese diet, mealtimes are generally a combination of vegetables, meats, fish, rice or noodles.

This doesn’t mean that the Indians are right and the Chinese wrong or the other way round. Both means of eating convey benefits and disadvantages to these people. What this teaches us is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to food and eating habits.

A more important factor is that good digestion depends not just on the quality of the food we eat, but also on our ability to digest it. If our digestion is impaired, we will not absorb the useful nutrients from it. In Chinese medicine, the Spleen and Stomach meridians and organs control digestion. If they are weak, then we may suffer from low energy and other symptoms such as feelings of bloatedness or tiredness after eating, rumbling in the intestines, diarrhoea and aches in the stomach or food intolerances. Food may not be properly absorbed causing low energy and a thin body. Conversely, food may be too well absorbed but not properly converted into energy in the body resulting in weight gain and again tiredness. In this way, we could eat the best food in the world and it will go to waste. When a person has strong digestion, they can eat a big mac and fries and take in benefit from it. When a person has weak digestion they can eat a Jamie Oliver meal and gain very little benefit from it.

There is a common joke – only sick people can be found in health food shops. Conversely only healthy people are found in fried chicken shops.

Acupuncture seeks to strengthen the digestive system. But there are times when digestion is naturally weak such as when we are convalescing from an illness. During this time, Chinese dietetics recommends very simple and easily digestible food. Every culture has some version of this. The Chinese and Japanese have a very simple meal – called congee or rice porridge. It is available from some Chinese restaurants. Here is the recipe:

Congee

Ingredients:

– ¾ cup long grain rice

– 9 cups water

– 1 teaspoon salt

Preparation:

In a large pot, bring the water and rice to the boil.

When the rice is boiling, turn the heat down to low. Put the lid on the pot, tilting it to allow steam to escape.

Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice has a thick, creamy texture like porridge. Approximately 1-2 hours. Add the salt, taste and add seasonings if desired.

Serve with garnishes. A little soya sauce can be added.

For a healthy option, brown wholegrain rice may used instead of white rice although the cooking time may have to be increased to 3-4 hours. Alternatively you can use a pressure cooker and cook for about one hour.

Variations:

For extra nutrition, an egg can be added and stirred into the congee a few minutes before you turn the heat off. Other options are wakame seaweed or nori seaweed, which should be added at the end or kombu seaweed, which should be cooked from the beginning.

A little shredded meat can also be added at the beginning of the cooking process. The long cooking time will mean it is very soft and easy to digest.

Congee tonifys the blood and is very nourishing. It is more easily digestible for the chronically ill person and gentle on the intestines.

How we eat

Consider some western eating habits today. How we eat – the environment has the potential to affect digestion particularly if we feel stressed when we eat or if we eat in a rush. Some people at work will stuff a cold sandwich down their throat during a rushed five minute break and a coke during the winter. This is not really respecting their digestive system. In the traditional Chinese energy circulation clock, which shows the circulation of qi through the meridians, the morning time period of 7am – 9am is called the time of the stomach. The period of 9am – 11am is the time off the spleen (which deals with digestion and absorption). These four hours are considered to be the time when the digestive system is at its maximum peak of power in the Chinese clock. It is a time, where it would be good to have our most substantial meal because our digestive organs are at their peak of energetic activity and can digest and absorb efficiently.

In Asian countries like Japan, traditionally they would honour this with a substantial meal for breakfast. A traditional breakfast would be rice, miso soup and grilled mackerel. In the West, breakfasts used to be more substantial. My father’s generation were brought up with a large bowl of porridge oats, bread and butter and sometimes kippers (when times were good). However, now there is a trend towards having lighter and quicker breakfasts. Today, many people have a few spoonfuls of cornflakes, a slice of toast or they forego breakfast and have two to three cups of coffee and a cigarette. It may well be that the post afternoon slump and craving for snacks that many people suffer from may be attributed to an insufficient breakfast. And there is a long term consequence to inadequate eating. Your body must use up its own resources and precious yin energy in order to provide yang energy for daily movement and activity. In short, you’re selling yourself short.

Another example of Western eating habits is that the evening meal time is slowly becoming a solitary affair. Even in families with two or more members, the TV is often switched on and takes centre stage. Some families eat in separate rooms.

Typically the Chinese family sit down at the table together. Food is placed on dishes in the centre and they take a small portion and place on their bowls unlike the Western way of having their own plate filled up with everything. This way, there must be interaction between family members. Eating becomes a social event. The TV may be on in the room in the background, but it does not take central focus. Food takes central focus.

This year I was fortunate to be invited by a Chinese friend for the Chinese New Year. In typical Western fashion, I filled up my small bowl to maximum with everything I wanted. It seemed more efficient to get everything in one go, then to have to keep takings bits here and there – especially with chopsticks. This attracted one small remark of disdain. Fortunately, I was among friends. We discussed different eating habits and I was told that the Western way of filling up everything you want in a bowl or plate is seen as selfish. It was an idea I had never considered before. I had always taken it for granted that typically we have everything we want on our own plate. When we order food in a restaurant, typically food comes on our own plate. We do not share it. It seems more efficient. But then by eating in this way, eating has the potential to become a selfish event. Everything is set. We do not need to interact. We don’t need to argue who’s going to eat that last piece of pie. And if the TV is on in the room, we can simply watch and eat, watch and eat. Social interaction can come secondary. And many families do eat like this.

Weight

The modern Chinese and Japanese do suffer the same as Westerners in that they also put on weight and feel inclined to go on diets. One look at women’s magazines from these countries will reveal all sorts of advertisements for questionable diet supplements and diet plans. However, what they don’t have are the levels of obesity that is becoming prevalent in the US and UK. From my time living in Japan, I believe this in part is down to the attitude towards food. In Japan, food is given a lot of respect. TV programs are awash with numerous segments on foods and restaurants with various B and C class celebrities being filmed eating said food and responding in the expected fashion by making an intense expression of pleasure and exhaling in an orgasmic “Oishiii! Umaii!” which literally translates as ‘Delicious! Tastes Good!”. Going to restaurants is a popular social activity, just like going shopping with friends or to a coffee shop and they are not overly expensive like in the UK. I saw a lot of food blogs written by people giving reviews of foods and restaurants. One acquaintance showed me a picture of a very tasty looking cake she had just eaten at a local cake shop which she was going to upload on her personal blog. On a Sunday afternoon, I often saw long lines of people – boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife standing patiently outside certain restaurants and eateries with reputations for selling delicious ramen (noodles) or gyudon (beef and rice) in a manner not too dissimilar to the way queues of couples may line outside museums or galleries on a Sunday afternoon in the UK.

A typical complaint from Japanese people and in fact many foreigners visiting the UK is that English food is no good. As an English national, I know this is not true. There are lots of good and simple foods. However I do understand the criticism. The closest you will find on the high street to a simple, clean and affordable British eatery is the Wetherspoons pub, which is usually tucked in among several MacDonalds, Subway sandwich shops and various Italian restaurants. After that, if you want authentic British food, you have to go to a greasy spoon café which is more catered to working men and mostly serves fried foods like eggs, bacon sausages, beans and toast – which is high in fats, salt and cholesterol. I also think English people tend to put too much stock in fish and chips which is really a kind of junk food. It is really no surprise that the Indian curry was voted the UK’s most popular dish a few years ago. After all, the British example is always – if someone else has something good, we can always steal it and make it our own. Take a look inside the British Museum if you disagree.

When it comes to giving advice on food, I don’t think there is any one size fits all approach. I don’t believe one diet can fix all. In my own life, I have experimented with various diets, eating habits and supplements. Some had good results on my health. Some of them undermined it. I even underwent a 5 day fast at a specialist fasting centre. This is not to be advised on your own as it can be extremely harmful. I have experienced periods of my life when I have eaten as health consciously as I could by favouring organic foods, increasing vegetables, avoiding sugar, drinking fresh juices and eating so called ‘superfoods’ and supplements. I have also gone the opposite side of the spectrum – living on junk food, snacks and alcohol (mostly during my early twenties.). I have read many books, and tried many things out diligently but I can’t honestly say that any one way of eating resonated with me. The only way of eating which seems to make me feel well internally and externally is when I go back to a simple diet, which my mother used to cook for me. This was boiled vegetables – carrots, cabbage, potatoes and a serving of meat or fish. Sometimes a bit of apple pie afterwards for a treat. Lunch at school was a cheese or meat sandwich and an apple. My father’s ideal breakfast consisting of cooked porridge oats, with stewed apple for breakfast definitely heated me up during the cold seasons – although I still find it a bit bland. And for balance, there was always the treat of a takeout or fish and chips on the occasional weekend to look forward to. And when I was a young kid, I don’t ever remember being neurotic about food or calorie counting or worrying that a food was harmful to me. It may not be the healthiest, but nor is it the worst. Nowadays, I see school kids outside the local kebab shop at lunch time eating fried chicken and chips from little boxes and dropping chicken bones on the pavement and I wonder if they eat like this every day.

As an acupuncture practitioner, my advice is simple. Eat fresh and adequate amounts of vegetables, protein and carbs. Limit processed foods. Prepare and cook foods yourself. Boil, steam or grill in preference to frying. During the cold seasons, soups and stews are nourishing. During the summer, some raw foods can be OK if your digestive system is healthy. If you have digestive problems, cook foods softly so that they are easily digestible, and be wary of eating too much fibre especially raw. Also listen to your body – if a food or supplements upsets your gut, no matter how ‘healthy’ it is meant to be, then maybe it’s no good for you. Listen and respond to the messages your body tells you. And be aware of the psychological nature of food. If you crave salty snacks or sweets excessively – it can be an imbalance in the body but there is also the consideration that there is a psychological reason for the craving. When we are stressed or deeply troubled, sugary and salty foods can be a way of self-medicating ourselves in much the same way that people may drink alcohol or take illicit drugs to ‘numb’ themselves from the stress of life’s problems.

Not to mention, in much the same way that factory farmed animals are effectively force fed with whatever we choose to give them – GM grains, antibiotics, steroids or even brain material from their own species (causing Mad Cow disease due to prions), we as humans are also to various extents ‘force-fed’ by the food industry in collaboration with the advertising industry. Food is a billion dollar business and a major part of the economy. Certain industries depend for their very survival that enough of us Homo sapiens eat farmed chicken and pork, hamburgers, bread or milk or frosted sugar flakes or sweetened fizzy drinks on a daily basis. The last thing we are ever expected to do is to grow and eat our own food. It is in this way, that modern humans in the developed world have lost connection with food. Because food today is imported from thousands of miles away, we don’t even know which foods are local to our environment. Only amateur gardeners know which vegetables are in season. And meat is far more easily available today than in any generation previously, we tend to forget that meat was a luxury item for our ancestors. An ancient wisdom has been forgotten.

As many aspects of our life have been improved, we have forgotten that we as humans must still follow the natural laws if we want to thrive in health (not just survive). A major principle is to live in tune with nature. There is a price to be paid for spending all our days in an air-conditioned room set to the same comfortable temperature in summer and winter. In much the same way we can buy and eat salad from the supermarket chilled section everyday during the coldest period of winter. If we eat a yin food in a yin season, we make our bodies too yin. In a yin season (winter) it is better to eat a yang food (a warm stew) to balance yin and yang. The Chinese were smart – too smart. They foresaw the damage that occurs to the body when we live out of tune with nature and found a simplistic way of expressing it. Despite our incredible advances in science, medicine and technology, we still have the same bodies as the ancients and are still subject to the same natural laws. Fortunately, their wisdom has been preserved and is waiting for us to rediscover it.

How To Avoid Food Poisoning

Millions of food poisoning cases occur each year, and millions more go unrecognised because they are mis-diagonisd – or unreported. The symptoms include: vomiting, diarrhoea and pain in the abdomen.

Most of us can handle a little food poisoning without major upset, but there are a number of high-risk groups for whom it can be very dangerous, even fatal. These groups include the elderly, infants, pregnant women and the chronically ill, especially those with weakend immune systems. There are also certain types of food poisoning like (botulism) that can be deadly for just about anyone.

WHAT CAUSES FOOD POISONING?

Most food poisoning occurs because food was handled improperly at home, often during routine procedures that we all take for granted.(Other stages at which germs and toxins might enter food are during cultivation and storage).

There are four main culprits:

Bacteria: These are responsible for more than two-thirds of food poisoning episodes. The important germs in this category are Salmonella, Staphylococci Clostrdia and Bacillus Cereus. The food we eat, no matter how hygienically prepared, almost always contains a few bacteria. However, a small number does not cause illness: at a rough estimate, about one million bacteria must be present before a healthy adult will come to harm. However, in case of children under one year, or in case of old or sick persons, only one lakh bacteria bring on illness.

Viruses: These are the simplest living organisms containing only genetic material. Viruses require living tissues for their growth and multiplication, therefore will not multiply in food. However, food can serve as a transport vehicle for viruses. Since viruses are destroyed by temperatures achieved in normal cooking, food poisoning by viruses occurs largely in food which has not been cooked or has been handled after cooking by a person who is a carrier of viruses.

Chemicals: Common chemicals which produce food poisoning are pesticides, detergents, paraffin, food additives, sterilizing agents and packing materials. Food poisoning from chemicals is mostly caused by carelessness in the home or in an industrial establishment.

Try to avoid buying attractive and highly-coloured foods as these contain several addictives which way harmful. Carefully read the manufacturer’s information/instructions regarding contents, use and storage.

Aoid the use of packaged wheat-flour. Instead, buy whole-wheat from the market, clean it with plenty of water, dry it and have it ground at a floor mill.

Vegetables: Certain naturally poisonous plants, when accidentally mixed in with vegetables, cause food posioning. Among these are toadstool (confused with mushroom), hemlock, black nightshade, rhubarb leaves and undercooked red kidney beans. The toxins of most plants are unaffected by cooking.

HOW GERMS GAIN ACCESS TO THE KITCHEN

The main entry points are:

Food Handlers: Usually these are carriers (persons carrying the germs in their body but not suffering from the disease itself). They may be convalescents, i.e. people who have recently suffered food poisoning and who, though recovered, continue to pass a small number of these germs in the faeces; these may gain access to food due to improper washing of hands and poor general hygiene.

Carriers may also be healthy people who have not suffered the symptoms of food poisoning but nevertheless carry harmful germs in their intestines. Again, the medium of instruction is faeces.

Animals, birds and Insects: Flies, rats, birds, other insects and animals (incluing pets) usually carry bacteria in their intestines and on their feet and fur. These animals are infected through eating contaminated feeds, grazing on contaminated pasture land or through contact with other (infected) animals.

Food and food products: When animals are slaughtered and dressed, germs from the surroundings and from the hands of the handlers may contaminate the surface of the meat where they grow and multiply.

Dust: Vegetables are usually contaminated with dust which may contain bacterial spores. Spores are the unique feature of some (not all) bacteria. When growth and multiplication of bacteria is not possible due to an unfavourable environment, the bacterial cells form spores (small, reproductive cells) and the remaining part of the germs disintegrates. These spores are resistant to even boiling and freezing, can survive for years without food or water and, in faourable circumstances, are capable of reverting to the original, infective form – to grow again and multiple.

Raw vegetables should be first rinsed in plenty of water and then dipped in a very weak solution of potassium permanganate (about of grams in 1 litre of water), for 5 minutes, and then washed again thoroughly with clean water. Potassium permanganate removes the surface dirt, spores and germs.

Cross-contamination: This is the transmission of germs from a contaminated source to uncontaminated food (usually freshly cooked food). If this food is suitable for bacterial growth and is left for some time in a warm room, the transferred organisms multiply rapidly. Some examples of this process in a kitchen are:

  • Using a chopping board, a work surface or kitchen equipment in the preparation of two different foods without washing it in between, eg using a mincer for raw meet and then for cooked corned beef. The same principle holds true for the hands of the cook.
  • Sneezing, coughing, smoking, scratching around the genitals or the anus while in the kitchen and not washing hand thereafter.
  • Wearing highly engraved jewellery while preparing food. The crevices offer a foothold for germs which may then be transferred to the food.
  • By combining hair in the kitchen or from loose strands of hair.
  • From skin infections, especially of the hands (boils, furuncles, wounds etc.) in the cook.
  • From the crevices of craked/chipped plates and damaged utensils.
  • Through unhygienic food tasting, eg, dipping a finger in prepared food without washing, then licking it and again dipping it in another prepared for unprepared food, without washing in between.
  • By touching dirty linen, wash-cloths, dusters, etc. while preparing/handling food.
  • By incorrect placement of food in the refrigerator. For example, keeping uncooked meat on the top shelf, and uncovered, roasted chicken on the shelf below: Blood from the uncooked meat may drip on to the chicken and contaminate it. In the low temperature inside the fridge, these germs remain dormant, but once the food is warmed for serving or even thawed out at room temperature, the germs multiply rapidly.

HOW GERMS GROW IN FOOD

Germs thrive best when four conditions are optimum:

Temperature: Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow and multiply fastest at the temperature of the human body (37° C). Above and below the temperature, the rate of growth decreases, but still fairly rapid at about 30° C – which would be the room temperature in a poorly-ventilated kitchen during summers.

At the temperature of boiling water, i.e. 100° C, bacteria are killed in one or two minutes (though spores are not).

At low temperatures, such as in a fridge, they become dormant, but start multiplying again once the food is removed for thawing or warming.

The Type of Food: Germs multiply rapidly in those foods which have a high protein and moisture content, such as meat, poultry, dairy products, gravies and sauces. Protein and moisture provide “nutrition” to bacteria and act as very good culture media. (In the laboratory, most bacteria are grown over a blood or egg-containing medium.)

Moisture: Dehydrated products, such as milk powders, do not allow the growth of bacteria, but the bacteria remain dormant until the powders are reconstituted. So, reconstituted powder milk,eg, must be stored in the refrigerator as soon as water is added to it.

The Time Factor: If conditions are conducive, bacteria divide into two, every twenty minutes. Therefore, the longer food is allowed to stay in conditions optimum from bacterial growth, the greater the extent to contamination.

HOW TO PREVENT FOOD POISONING?

The ground rule is to maintain regorous hygiene at all the points at which food is handled:

Personal hygiene of the food-handler

  • Germs cling to the skin surface and persist in hair follicles, in skin pores, or in crevices and lesions caused by breaks in the skin. The hands should be washed with plenty of soap and water, preferably warm. A disinfectant solution may also be used, as an added precaution.
  • Nails should be short, unchipped and, preferably, unvarnished (if varnished, the varnish should not be chipped.)
  • Wet hands contain more bacteria than dry hands. Use clean towels to dry them. If you can afford an electrically-operated hand drier, that’s even more hygienic.
  • The food handler should remove all jewellery from his/her hands.
  • If any cut,wound or boil is present on the hand, a coloured waterproof dressing should be apllied over it so that if it accidentally falls off into the food, it can be easily noticed and the food discarded.
  • It is very important to wash hands after a trip to the toilet, blowing your nose, handling raw meat, poultry or contaminated food, etc.
  • The food handler should not smoke in the kitchen and should sneeze or cough into a tissue which should then be discarded.
  • Cover hair under a cap or net.
  • Clothes should be clean and should cover exposed areas of the body as far as possible. Long sleeves should be rolled up or securely fastened at the wrists so that cuffs do not dip into the food.
  • Always waer full-length apron.
  • During illness, the nasal and throat carriage of bacteria is increased, so sick persons and those who have suffered from food poisoning, diarrhoea and vomiting in the recent past (even if they are apparently healthy now) should not be allowed into the kitchen.

Hygiene in the Preparation, Cooking and Storage of food

  • Thaw all frozen foods completely before cooking. If you do not, the ice crystals at the centre of the food prevent the temperature that reaches the centre at the time of cooking from being sufficiently high to kill the bacteria there; at the same time, this temperature level will be optimum for bacterial multiplication!
  • Food should not be repeatedly frozen, thawed and re-frozen. Each time it thaws, it reaches a temperature that’s conducive to bacterial growth.
  • Cook food thoroughly at one go. Never do it in two stages – bacteria remain alive in partially-cooked foods and on cooling they multiply and survive right through the next phase of partial cooking.
  • Never keep the food warm (as in casseroles) because these provide the optimum temperature for bacterial multiplication.
  • Never re-heat the food more than once. Again, bacteria get a chance to multiply when the food has gone from ‘hot’ to ‘warm’. If re-heating is absolutely necessary, the food should be covered and cooled very rapidly after cooking and stored in the refrigerator until it is ready to be re-heated. To speed cooling, divide up the food into several containers or cut up big chunks into smaller pieces.
  • Quick, high temperature cooking is the best. The traditional practice of slow cooking in open pots increases the risk of food poisoning.
  • As eggs, especially duck’s eggs, are a known risk for salmonella poisoning, lightly cooked uncooked dishes such as scrambled eggs, omelette and poached eggs should preferably be avoided. Safer options are hard-boiled eggs (boiled for at least ten minutes), eggs fried well on both sides or eggs used in baked products such as cakes and puddings, which require cooking temperatures high enough to destroy the germs.
  • Cook foods to the proper temperatures. Meat should be cooked at least 160° degrees. Red meat is thoroughly cooked when it is brown or gray inside. Poultry is done when the juices become clear. Fish, which cooks very quickly, flakes easily with a fork when it is done.
  • Serve food as soon as possible after cooking. Don’t let it sit out for more than two hours at room temperature. If you are serving buffet-style, keep cold food on ice, hot food over warmers. Put out only small portions at a time so that the remainder can stay hot or cold in the kitchen until needed.
  • As far as possible, avoid buying prepared foods because you have no guarantee of the hygiene maintained in the preparation of such foods. If you must buy such goods, prefer frozen foods to warm foods, since they provide less opportunity for bacterial multiplication.
  • Don’t buy food in damage containers. Avoid cans and glass jars that have dents cracks or bulging lids. A damaged container may allow bacteria to get inside and multiple.
  • Use highly acidic canned foods, such as tomato and apple products, within 12 to 18 months. Other canned goods, such as canned meat, poultry, stews, pasta products, potatoes and peas can be stored longer (from two to five years).

There are several reasons for this. First, when acidic foodstuffs are packed in metal containers, the acid dissolves the metal which is absorbed into the contents of the tin/can, affecting their flavour and texture, thus causing spoilage.

The acid itself also softens the preserved food, again damaging its texture – “spoilage”.

Finally, meats and other hardy foods like pasta and potatoes preserve better because, at the time of processing, it is possible for them to withstands the duration and kind of temperature required for virtually complete sterilization – 121° C, for 20 minutes at 15 pounds of steam pressure. However, succulent foods like apples, tomatoes and mangoes cannot withstand such processing without having their flavour and texture altered. So, they are heated at a lower temperature, under less pressure, for longer time. Because of the incomplete sterilization, the chances of spoilage in such foods are comparatively higher.

  • Preferably, all canned food should be stored in the refrigerator – especially if you intend to use it over a prolonged period. In any case, don’t use it beyond the expiry date. All opened canned food should be stored as freshly cooked-food.
  • Do not put hot foods directly into the fridge. Apart from damaging the cooling coils, this can encourage the growth of certain germs and moulds.
  • The refrigerator door should be kept shut as far as possible; the fridge should also be regularly defrosted to remove excess ice around the cooling coils which decreases is efficiency.

Hygiene in The Kitchen

A sterile kitchen would be a mere fantasy. However, proper design and maintenance can go a long way in ensuring a clean and hygienic cooking environment and significantly reducing the risks of food poisoning:

  • The kitchen should be spacious enough to allow easy and thorough cleaning. Equipment should be moveable or, in the case of fridges, for example, should be placed where it is possible to clean its back, sides and under-surface.
  • The areas of preparation, cooking and washing up should be well separated to lessen the chances of cross-contamination.
  • The kitchen should be provided with a large window and ventilator, if possible with exhaust fan.
  • The window should be covered with thin wire mesh to prevent the entry of house-flies and other pests.
  • The cutting/chopping board should be made from hard-wearing, easily cleaned material which does not absorb moisture, chip or crack and is not affected by food residues. Stainless steel is the best choice, better than even plastic laminates which, of however superior quality, are still susceptible to scratches from knife blades etc. However, even today, far too many kitchens use wooden boards, which easily develop cracks and crevices, enabling germs to thrive.
  • Every kitchen should have a round-cornered dustbin, preferably with paddle-operated lid, and it should never be allowed to overflow.
  • Kitchen floors should be made of a hard-wearing, anti-slip, easily-cleaned material which is unaffected by moisture, and resistant to salt and fruit acids. Unbroken, smooth quarry tiles are a good choice.
  • The ceiling should have a smooth finish to facilitate cleaning (an absorbent plaster with washable emulation). Walls should be smooth and light-coloured to make dirt easily traceable.
  • Pick up knives, forks and spoons by their handles, glasses by their stems and plates by their edges. Discard any chipped plate or glass and any damaged utensils because even efficient washing may not get rid of the germs harboured in crevices and cracks.
  • Rat and mice carry bacteria in their fur, feet and faeces. Since they breed in warm and dark corners, the kitchen premises should be kept in good repair with no holes, or defective pipes or drains. Store-rooms for storage areas should be cleaned regularly. All the stocks must be kept off the ground and used in rotation to ensure that rats and mice are not been sheltered at the back of the store-room. If you do have a rodent problem, get rid of the pests with a mousetrap or a mild rodenticide.
  • Flies are the commonest carrier of food-poisoning bacteria. Reduce the risks by covering windows and ventilators with fine wire mesh, using covered dustbins and, if necessary, an insecticidal spray.
  • Cockroaches typically hide behind ovens and cooking ranges, water pipes, and refrigerators. They can be killed by most available insecticides.

When Food You Love Doesn’t Like You

Before my doctoral program – which required me to narrow down to a specialty (sugar addiction) – I had studied food intolerances.

Many books on the subject start with food reactions, then move into chemicals in our homes and offices, gasoline fumes, and more. Important as those things are, they’re not about nutrition.

My interest in food intolerances has always been their link with addiction.

Recently, I “attended” a webinar by J.J. Virgin, whose first book (I believe) was on food intolerances and how to eliminate those foods to improve health and lose weight. The webinar re-sparked my interest in food intolerance and addiction.

Common triggers for food intolerance include chocolate, corn, soy, wheat (or other gluten-containing foods), peanuts, dairy, eggs, sugars and other sweeteners.

What Does Food Intolerance Look Like?

Signs and symptoms can include headache/migraine, joint pains, fatigue, sleepiness, heart palpitations, depression, irritability, stomach pains, bloating, and many more.

Because digested food moves through the bloodstream, the effects of an intolerance can show up virtually anywhere in the body.

Food reactions might be the same every time the food is eaten, such as a rash.

Or the reactions might vary – say, a non-itchy rash one time and itching with no rash another time.

The reaction might be cumulative. Maybe a small portion of the food causes no reaction, but a portion eaten again that day, or several days in a row, does causes one.

Addiction is another possible reaction that may develop over time.

What Causes Food Intolerances?

The causes are many, but let’s keep it simple.

One cause is a genetic intolerance or a tendency toward it.

We can become intolerant to a food we eat often or in large quantities. Overeating a food uses up enzymes specific to digesting that food, so complete digestion is prevented.

That may result in improperly digested food particles moving through the digestive tract and bloodstream, triggering an immune reaction. The undigested, unabsorbed food provides no nutrients.

We can also become reactive to a food we eat together with another triggering food. So the list of triggering foods may grow, resulting eventually in malnutrition.

Food Reactions May Change Over Time

The guiding principle of the human body is homeostasis.

When a trigger food is first eaten, the body attempts to restore homeostasis by ridding itself of the offending food. It prevents absorption by attaching antibodies to the partially digested food while it’s in the intestine. That might successfully eliminate the food before it can pass into the bloodstream.

If the food does enter the bloodstream, it can trigger inflammation. The acute reaction may be short, and the body may return to homeostasis quickly.

If someone continues to eat a triggering food over time, the body undergoes an adaptation. The immune system may become slower (or less able) to respond. The reaction may now manifest more slowly than the acute reaction. Signs or symptoms may last longer, sometimes hours or days.

How Can That Become a Food Addiction?

The immune response to a triggering food involves a release of stress hormones, opioids, such as endorphins (beta-endorphin), and chemical mediators like serotonin. The combination can produce temporary symptom relief through the analgesic action of endorphin and serotonin, plus mood elevation and a feeling of relaxation.

In that way, eating the triggering food may make someone feel better almost immediately and even think the food is beneficial.

Endorphin release typically involves a concomitant release of dopamine. The combination of those two brain chemicals and serotonin forms what I’ve always called the “addictive package.” Avoiding the food could lead to withdrawal.

After long-term use, someone may eat the triggering food not to experience the pleasure of the chemical “high,” but to relieve the distress and withdrawal without it. It’s almost textbook addiction.

How Does Intolerance/Addiction Affect Health?

As someone addicted to a triggering food continues to eat more of it, the immune system must keep adapting, and may become hyper-sensitized, reacting to more and more foods – especially those eaten together with reaction-triggering foods, or with sugar.

The constant demand on the immune system can lead to immune exhaustion and degenerative reactions, depending on genetic weaknesses. The signs and symptoms listed above are just a start.

Sugar can be a major player in this because it causes inflammation in the body and makes it more susceptible to food reactions. Eating triggering foods plus sugar can make it even more likely that new reactions will occur.

I recall a book by Nancy Appleton, who suggested that eggs might trigger reactions in many people because they’re so frequently eaten at breakfast with orange juice. Cake is another example: sugar plus wheat, eggs, milk.

As the addictions continue, cravings occur, leading to increased consumption. As more and more foods trigger an immune response, the result may be malnutrition, as explained above.

Stats say that rates of food intolerance are rising. My theory is that it’s at least partly due to sugar in our diets – including sneaky sugars that are often viewed as healthful, such as agave, fruit, fruit juice, and sweeteners.

Stopping the Cycle

Definitely give up any foods you suspect may be causing any reactions – even if you love them. Think about foods you eat with those triggering foods on a regular basis, and consider eliminating those, as well. Above all, avoid sugar.

Follow this plan, as J.J. Virgin recommends, for 3 weeks.

In the meantime, you may have cravings. If so, use my proven, time-tested recommendation of a teaspoon of liquid B-complex (complete B-complex) to kill the craving within minutes.

At the end of the 3-week elimination, you should be feeling – and looking – much better.

Survival Tips – The Best Emergency Food Kit

Who Needs The Best Emergency Food Kit?

Who knows what the future holds? If only we knew, day to day, what challenges would arise, we would never be caught unawares. Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work that way. Those who prefer to look forward and make preparations for the “just in case” scenarios are often painted as fringe lunatics and doomsday preppers. However, assembling the best emergency food kit for yourself or your family should be something every responsible adult takes seriously. Just a few of the “normal” situations that could arise, when having emergency rations for your family would make sense, include: loss of a job, temporary lay off, extended storm damage or power outage that traps your family at home. Or perhaps you’d just like to be a position to help another family in need, should the opportunity arise. Then there are Armageddon type scenarios that plague the mind of some, and no better way to put those fears to rest than to look ahead and prepare for the worst. Whatever your reasons for looking forward and setting up emergency rations against a difficult time ahead, we are here to help you build the very best emergency food kit for your family.

Identifying Your Needs

First, lay out your preparation strategy. If you’re just getting started in emergency preparation, you may not have more than a day or two worth of food in your cupboard. If that’s the case, building up a thirty day supply of food is a good place to start. If you already have 30 days of emergency rations laid by, the next step may be building up a six month or year emergency food kit. The important thing is to start somewhere, and build your supplies up until you’ve assembled the best emergency food kit that you’re able.

Who Are You Feeding?

Do you have children in the house? Teens? Older or elderly adults? Infants will require special feeding accommodations like milk or formula, while the elderly may have some unique nutritional needs, as well. Map out on paper who you’re building a food supply for and any special things you need to prepare for them, or for yourself. Then consider what it takes to feed that person for a single day.

How Many?

Once you’ve written down what it takes to feed one person for one day, you’ll need to multiply that by the number of people, and the number of days for which you’re preparing.

What Do They Like To Eat?

There’s no need to live for a month on nothing but rice and beans. You don’t want to stock up on three months worth of food that your family won’t touch with a six-foot pole, just because it was cheap. It may keep you alive in a pinch, but you want to enjoy it, if possible. So take the likes and dislikes into consideration as you plan. Don’t forget to consider food allergies, as well. In an emergency situation, you wouldn’t want to face an allergic reaction from cross contamination, so better to avoid problem foods altogether, if possible.

Types Of Emergency Rations

There are dozens of ways to build up a great emergency food kit. The easiest, though certainly not the least expensive, is to invest in commercially prepared emergency rations, offered by various companies. These kits come as single servings, or a month’s worth of food for a single person. There are dozens of options to choose from.

Another method, requiring a little planning and management, is to simply take what you buy and use on a weekly basis, and start building up a supply that will last. If you ordinarily use three cans of beans and two boxes of mac ‘n’ cheese and a jar of peanut butter each week, then begin buying double that, and set the extra aside for your emergency food kit. Then manage your stock by rotating it so that your food stays as fresh as possible. Freshness would be a significant advantage in a long-term disaster, where you’re relying on your emergency rations for months, or even years.

Once you’ve built up a few months supply of food, organize your cans and boxes with the soonest expiration date in the front and the furthest out in the back. Then, when you do your grocery shopping, put the new stuff in the back and use from the front. This keeps your stock fresh and ready to use if and when the need arises.

Home canning is another less expensive way to build up your emergency food kit. Canning is becoming a lost art, so if you’re not familiar with how to do it, you’re not alone. Canning food in glass jars requires a little learning and effort but can allow you to preserve tasty, homemade food for years. Be sure to learn which foods require pressure cooking versus water-bathing methods of preservation. Properly canned goods keep best in cool, dark places between 50 and 70 *F (10 – 21 *C) and are safe to eat for years after canning.

For bulk dry goods that are intended for long term storage, wheat, beans, rice, sugar and other dry goods can be vacuum sealed and stored in five gallon buckets with O2 absorbers to last for thirty years and more. For the truly prepared minded, a few buckets of wheat and corn will go a long way toward peace of mind.

A vacuum sealer is a good investment for anyone serious about their emergency rations. Sealing foods in smaller quantities not only preserves them longer but allows you to use them a little at a time, rather than having to use a large container up quickly once you’ve opened it.

If you’re worried about the expiration date on store-bought canned goods, keep this story in mind. A steamboat named the Bertrand was trying to reach Montana in 1865 when it sunk to the bottom of the Missouri river. One hundred years later, canned goods from that wreck were recovered. In 1974, 109 years after the accident, the food was tested by chemists and found safe to eat. You should use good sense when eating canned foods that have passed their expiration dates. If it looks odd, smells bad or tastes bad, don’t eat it!

Signs That The Food In Your Emergency Food Kit Has Gone Bad

Signs canned goods have gone bad: the can is bulging, or the lid has come unsealed. Check for mold or fermentation bubbles in the liquid. If the food rushes out of the can or jar when you open it, there is pressure on the contents that wasn’t there when the can or jar was sealed. This is a good indication of bacterial activity causing a chemical reaction.

Comfort Foods

Once you’ve established a good base for emergency rations, you might want to start thinking about adding some comfort foods to your store. In stressful situations, we all turn to food for comfort, and yummy food might not be easy to come by in the event of a disaster. Some things to store include:

 

  • Chocolate – powdered cocoa keeps the best, but chocolate bars over 70% cocoa will keep for several months, and much longer if frozen. Hot chocolate mix has a shelf life of several years, and could easily be added to the rotation of your emergency food kit.
  • Mac n’ cheese – Best preserved dried by separating the noodles and cheese, and then vacuum sealing them with O2 absorbers. If you’re worried about being able to cook macaroni and cheese, it can be canned, but it won’t have the same texture as freshly made. Under cooking the noodles before canning will help it to be less mushy.
  • Honey – made with natural preservatives, honey will keep indefinitely, as long as water never gets near it. Store in very clean, very dry glass jars. If it crystallizes, you can return it to its liquid state with a little heat.
  • Freeze dried fruit or dehydrated fruit can be a great energy booster and will keep well when stored properly.
  • Hard candy – store with desiccants and vacuum sealing to provide a much needed pick me up under stressful conditions.
  • Coconut oil, especially virgin coconut oil will store for a very long time and provide added fat for comforting recipes when butter isn’t available.
  • Spices – if you get to a place where you’re having to make all of your food from what you have on hand, you’ll be very glad for some extra spices to… well… spice things up.
  • Alcohol – Obviously, a comforting item, but it serves many purposes in a disaster scenario and it keeps well. High alcohol content (over 20%) will keep the longest and over 40% can serve as a disinfectant if needed.
  • Tea – keeps well without special accommodations. To keep it the very freshest, store in small quantities with an O2 absorber.
  • Coffee – For those who really need their cuppa to keep their chin up, coffee will be an important part of the very best emergency food kit. Roasted coffee keeps, vacuum sealed in Mylar bags, for up to two years. If you rotate it through your emergency rations, you will have good coffee for some time. For preparation beyond that, you can store green coffee beans in Mylar bags with O2 absorbers, then roast and grind them as needed.

What To Choose?How to decide what goes into the very best emergency food kit? A good rule of thumb is six months to a year of food that you would eat every day. This is easily managed through good shopping and rotation. For preparation beyond that time frame, vacuum sealed Mylar bags will keep dry goods for years. Many companies and even faith-based family preparation programs offer dry goods preserved in #10 cans that will keep up to 30 years. Building an emergency food kit that can last several years in a pinch is possible, with planning and forethought.

Water will be critical to surviving certain types of disaster scenarios. When planning for emergency situations, one liter of water per person per day is a good starting point. You’ll need some extra for sanitation and cooking, as well. Be sure you have plenty of water on hand, or a way to obtain water and sanitize it. Sanitation tablets and filtration systems would be a major component of the best emergency food kit.

Looking Ahead

For total preparedness, it’s important to think ahead to food preparation during an emergency. If the power was out for three weeks, how would you cook that mac ‘n’ cheese you took such care to store? Even if you have a power generator for emergencies, stoves and microwaves pull too much energy to use the generator for cooking. A propane or butane camp stove with plenty of fuel cells, or a propane or charcoal grill are great options to have on hand. And don’t forget to include a manual can opener in your emergency food kit.

Where To Keep It?

Storage space can be tricky, depending on your housing situation. If at all possible, you’ll want to designate a neatly organized room that’s specifically for food storage. You’ll label your shelves, and keep things nicely stocked and rotated. If you don’t live in this kind of fairy tale situation, you may have to get a little more creative about how you store your emergency food kit. A lot of food can be neatly stored, in cardboard boxes, under beds, in the bottoms or tops of closets, and under the stairs. You may need to reduce unnecessary clutter, to make room for emergency rations. The reward will be worth the effort.

Be Prepared, Not Scared

Taking the steps required to create the best emergency food kit that you possibly can will pay off in peace of mind. To know that you have the ability to care for those you love, and to be able to reach out to those around you in their time of need, will put you in a category reserved for just a few. You’ll rest easy at night, knowing that whatever tomorrow holds, your family is provided for.