Saturday, October 11, 2008

Discovering the subtleties beneath the skin of an everyday superfood

Red and good

Discovering the subtleties beneath the skin of an everyday superfood.

TOMATOES are hailed as the new supeffood, able not just to combat cancer and cut cholesterol but also, it was revealed, to help keep skin youthful and protect against sunburn.

Although the health benefits of tomatoes are well established, the average Briton eats only 6kg of them a year, compared to the 36kg devoured by Italians.

The Brits are not known for adventurousness when it comes to tomatoes. I thought

that there were only four kinds round, plum, cherry, and the ones that come chopped in a can. So I'm astonished to find that there are more than 5,000 varieties in the world, and 5CI0 in Italy alone.

I have come to Italy to learn the ave of eating them from Paolo Battistel, a consultant

who is being vaunted as Britain's first "tommelier".

Growing up on a farm near Venice, tommelier Battiste[ learnt about tomatoes from his

maternal grandmother Maria, a formidable woman who grew them as a hobby. Every year she was determined to produce not only the earliest crop in their village but also the

biggest tomato.

Little Paolo began helping her from the age of four, and now, at 48, he is trouble shooting all over the globe and running specialist courses on cultivation at his tomato school near Lake Garda.

Like the grapes that go into wine, different tomatoes thrive in different types of soil and

with varying levels of sunlight.

"Like most Italians, I prefer tomatoes t6be green and acidic, but the British love them

sweet and red."

Today's four candidates all come from Sicily, which is known for pmducing some of

Italy's best tomatoes the harsh growing conditions and high salinity of the water in the coastal farms yield fruits with a very intense taste,

A variety called Cikito is of particular interest to Battisteh it has three times the normal

levels of lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their deep red colour, and also acts

as a powerful antioxidant, capable of mopping up free radicals, the harmful molecules linked to cancer.

Placing four different tomatoes in front of me, Battistel asks me to guess which one is

Cikito. He gives me a clue: "The more lycopene a tomato has, the redder it is both on the

flesh and on the inside."

At first, they all look alarmingly similar. But by placing them directly next to each other, I see that one is definitely a much deeper shade of red than the others, and point to it triumphantly.

Battistel teaches me how to taste a tomato. First, I must savour it with the tip of my tongue to assess its sweetness, then roll it around each side of my mouth to check the acidity. Finally, I must push it up against the roof of my mouth and smear it across my

palate to assess its "mealiness".

I am not quite sure I have got the hang of this, but it seems to boil down to whether the tomato is crunchy or soft and how easily it will blend with other ingredients if used in a sauce.

A true tommefier would score each of thes attributes between one and 10, then plot them on a graph to depict the tomato's unique "fingerprint". Battistel lets me off lightly: all he asks me to do is say whether each tomato is sweet, acidic or mealy.

With the napkin tied over my eyes as an impromptu blindfold, the tasting gets off to a

good start. As soon as Battistel loads the first unseen tomato into my mouth, a burst of

sweetness hits the tip of my tongue. This is going to be easy. "Sweet!" I say.

I have similar success with tomatoes called Birikino and Caprese, though I falter on an

odd-looking green-and-red-striped specimen known as Zebrino,

The test is not over yet. We must also see what these tomatoes taste like when they are

cooked. For this, Battistel prepares them with great care.

Those destined for pizza are cut lengthways, from stalk to bottom, so that they pmduce less juice and avoid making the dough soggy. Those to be served on bruschetta are chopped crossways, so that they add as much moisture to the toasted bread as possible.

Battistel tells me that his grandmother prayed throughout her life that she would die

tending her tomatoes, She got her wish when she passed away in her garden eight years

ago, at the age of 93.

"It's how I would like to go, too," he says. Given that he eats some 90kg of this super-

food a year, his demise may be a very long way off yet. -@Telegraph Group Ltd,London


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Not so heavenly food - Appetite can be notoriously difficult to control, for many reasons.

Not so heavenly food
Appetite can be notoriously difficult to control, for many reasons.

The Chinese New Year season is still on. So far, I've had eight yee sang dinners and have gone to multiple open houses. During this time, I have eaten all sorts of foodstuff, including cookies, sweetmeats, cakes and fried foods. I believe I must have been eating about six or seven times a day. Is this considered overeating?

Yes! During festivals or occasions where there is plenty of delicious food available, it can be difficult to resist food, and thus, overeating.

But research has uncovered a more insidious underlying cause as to why some people just cannot resist food. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, there are areas in the brain that are triggered by visual images of food. These are called “reward centres”.

Scientists conducted an experiment where they used scans to show some test subjects pictures of highly appetising foods like chocolate cakes, bland foods like broccoli, and disgusting foods like rotten meat. They then measured brain activity using a sophisticated MRI scanner.

After testing, the participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their desire to pursue rewarding items or goals. The results showed that the participants' brain reward network is sensitive to images of appetising food.

This means that when you stimulate your brain's reward centres with food advertising (through TV, vending machines), attractive food product packaging and images of delicious food, it may result in overeating, and thus obesity, a lot of people are particularly susceptible to this.
I think I must have been one of them! But the puzzling thing is I still feel hungry after I've eaten quite a lot. I've been massively overweight for many years (weighing in more than 85kg) and have difficulty controlling my appetite and urges, especially when presented with such a wonderful array of delicious food in Malaysia.

According to scientists, appetite can be notoriously difficult to control. Most dieters regularly fail to control their food intake.

In the past, and even now, society looks at these people disparagingly, attributing their overeating to “lack of will power” or “greed”. Fat people or people who ate too much were blamed.

But the situation is much more complicated, as explained above. And for obese people, overeating is akin to drug addiction, research suggests. When they did MRI scans on several overweight people, they found that the regions of the brain that controlled satiety (“the impulse you get when your brain tells you that you have eaten enough and are satisfied”) were the same as those in drug addicts craving drugs.

This areas in the brain involved are the “hippocampus”, which controls emotional behaviour, learning and memory as well the orbito-frontal cortex, and the striatum.

Unfortunately, these are the same areas involved in drug abuse and craving. But it also means that appetite may be linked to emotion and addiction. More research is underway to prove these theories.

Is overeating a psychological disorder?
There is such a disorder called compulsive overeating. Compulsive overeating is characterised by uncontrollable eeating and consequent weight gain. Compulsive overeaters use food as their primary means to cope with stress, conflicts and daily life problems. You see, like alcohol, food can also be used to block out feelings and emotions.

Compulsive overeaters usually feel out of control and are aware their eating patterns are abnormal.

How will i know if i am a compulsive overeater?
Compulsive overeating frequently starts in early childhood. The child has never learned the proper way to deal with stress and so he uses food as a way of coping. He may have the idea that being overweight will keep other people at a distance because he is not attractive.

Compulsive overeaters are predominantly male overeaters. They know what they are feeling and doing is wrong. So the more they gain weight, the more they diet.

Dieting makes them so hungry that it leads to the next binge. There are feelings of powerlessness, guilt and shame.

So look out for these pointers:

1) Do you do binge eating? Binge eating means episodes of uncontrolled eating or bingeing. There is consumption of large
amounts of food, which is sometimes accompanied by a pressured, "frenzied" feeling. You may continue to eat even after you
feel uncomfortably full.

2) Do you fear that you might not be able to stop eating voluntarily?

3) Are you depressed or/and have self-deprecating thoughts, especially following binges?

4) Do you hide away from other people or withdraw from social activities because you are embarrassed about your weight?

5) Do you keep going on many different diets?

6) Do you attribute all your low feelings and failures to your weight? Does it become your life focus? Do youalways
believe you will be a better person if you are thin?

If you have answered yes to many of these, it is likely you are a compulsive overeater.

* Dr YLMgraduated as a medical doctor, and has writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health advice, computers and entertainment. The information contained in this column, is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other dgsurances:hs to such
information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.