What's portable and delicious but potentially pernicious?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

(To answer that riddle, you must know the meaning of the word pernicious which I didn’t at the time I was coming up with a title. It just popped into my head, as gifts from above sometimes do, and strangely enough was exactly the word I needed because it means “having a harmful effect, especially in a gradual or subtle way.” For the sake of an irresistible rhyme, I’m keeping it.)
The answer to the riddle?
A sandwich!
And we here in the US eat a lot of them. On any given day that would be almost half of us. And what a glorious thing because a sandwich is to an eater what a canvas is to an artist. If only our health wasn’t at stake. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, federal data indicate that, “sandwiches make up a fifth of the average American’s sodium intake, 19% of their daily saturated fat calories and 7% of daily added sugars.” They can be a literal “heart bomb” according to Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and professor of nutrition at Tufts University. Plus, a sandwich can easily account for a third or more of our recommended number of calories. Here’s where we go wrong:
  • Bread that is like cake. It is standard now for sandwich bread to have almost a full teaspoon of sugar per slice. (Why is that necessary when bread is already delicious? Not that I don’t love cake.)
  • Bread that has no intact grains and therefore no integrity. I believe we desperately need bread with nothing but good intentions, a bread that refuses to compromise its wholegrain values.
  • Condiments full of sodium and sugar. Watch the ketchup and mustard. Mayonnaise is a good option, according to Eric Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Why? “Because it’s typically made from eggs and canola or soybean oil, which are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats associated with a lower risk of heart disease.” (It does, however, have a lot of calories if that’s a concern.)
  • Deli meat that is processed and full of sodium and nitrates.*
Shockingly, according to research done by Mozaffarian, “a daily serving of processed meat is associated with a 42% increased risk of heart disease and a 19% increased risk of diabetes.”
So how do you maintain the spirit and integrity of a sandwich in a form that won’t slowly kill you? Focus on the fact that sandwiches are a perfect vehicle for whole grain fiber; focus on loads of herbs and vegetables like grated carrot, shredded cabbage, leftover roasted or sauteed veggies, roasted red peppers, and interesting additions like fermented kimchi or sauerkraut; focus on creative condiments like pesto and hummus; and focus on lean, non-processed proteins.
If that sounds complicated, it doesn’t have to be. Christina Roberto, an associate professor of health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, says it’s hard to beat a good old peanut butter and jelly sandwich so long as you use 100% whole wheat bread, natural peanut butter and you don’t sog up your bread with too much jam.
A sandwich, made with love, is a beautiful thing.
To sandwiches,
*Are deli meats bad? It seems they are vilified across the board and that doesn’t feel fair, as if a turkey breast that looks and acts like real meat with only nitrate-free seasoning as an additional ingredient is on par with pickle & pimento loaf. Here’s some reassuring deli meat news from Whitney Gould-Cookson, a dietitian for Northern Light Mayo Hospital and Northern Light CA Dean Hospital:
“As with everything, there is a difference between deli meats. The fewer the ingredients, the less processed, and the more “whole” cuts of deli meat are the ones to go for, with far less reliance on salami, bologna and the like. The pre-packaged deli meats are also more likely to have preservatives added in (sodium and nitrates are what to look out for). I think deli meat can be a fine addition to a sandwich and, as with most things, variety is key. Just like you can switch up the bread/wrap/tortilla and the veggies and the condiments, you can also add variety in the protein component by rotating in egg salad, hummus, cheese or chicken salad made from left over chicken or a veggie burger, for example.”
Correction: Work Force EAP offers up to 8 free sessions for employees and family members, not the unlimited number of sessions I references in last week’s Rocks & Water. My apologies for that error.