Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Truth or Perception?

When Guillermo and I were watching La Hora de Maquiavelo (The Machiavelli Hour) last night, it dawned on me that it is not only in politics that often perception triumphs over truth. Just off the top of my head I can already list numerous examples which maybe trivial but affect our personal and daily lives.

Guillermo had the Argentine habit of spreading queso blanco on his toasts instead of butter. For the longest time, he believed he had chosen the healthier option. An option with lower calories it may well be if one spreads butter as liberally as one is likely to do with queso blanco but it is definitely not healthier.

One would only need to read the long list of ingredients on Mendicrim (by Nestle) or Casancrem (by La Serenissima); following milk, cream and yoghurt, there is a list of substances which shouldn't have anything to do real food. Besides, if my husband follows the advice of one famous dieting food critic and uses butter as sparingly as if it were the most expensive and concentrated scent in the world, the difference in calorie count would be negligible.

For those sensitive ones who like to rebuke even the slightest perceived negative remark on Argentine life with other countries are equally bad or worse, I would say the following:

What happens elsewhere is irrelevant and such rebuke is completely missing the point because it is not about relativity. However, to silence their protestations, I would gladly supply a parallel example.

My mother uses a spread, similar in appearance to butter, called Logicol. It has a short product history; the manufacturer claims that it has cholesterol lowering benefits. The product has even obtained the seal of approval from the Australian Heart Foundation.

On the other hand, my brother who is a neurosurgeon urges my mother to stop using it since fats are known to change properties once manipulated and their damaging effects are usually kept in the dark for many years. The perfect example being margarine; once hailed as a health product and we are now told by health experts to avoid it.

A concern of perception over truth that is most relevant to me is the general but misguided perception, still prevalent in many cultures, that pregnancy is the time to indulge because one is eating for two.

I've read in a book on pregnancy that if you put two women together in an obstetrician's waiting room, one of the first things they would discuss is their weight.

I only discuss my pregnancy weight with close friends and family because one can lose perspective on this emotive issue very quickly – if you ever come across the numerous threads on the Baby Center bulletin board (U.S. based), you'd know what I mean.

Many of the ladies posting there have gained way above what is healthy weight but somehow they manage to leave the few who gained less feeling very insecure about their abilities as a mother, etc.

In a New York Times' article published a few years ago, a female journalist painted a rather harsh picture of pregnant women in New York who went to extremes so they would gain only the recommended minimum.

The article went on to quote a medical practitioner by name who described in detail how some of her patients have serious body issues – I did wonder if she skipped her ethics class on confidentiality at medical school.

The tone of the journalist implied selfishness and vanity in these pregnant women – hearing the ways some of them went about achieving their target weight, it may all be true but I have real problems with the underlying message that gaining the recommended weight implies selfishness and irresponsible behaviour in the mother-to-be.

Such propaganda is particularly annoying when most doctors advice their pregnant patients to add no more than an extra 250-300 calories per day to their intake during their pregnancy (assuming the patient begins her pregnancy at a normal weight). Too much weight gain may cause complications during delivery and trigger mild post-partum depression in the mother.

It is not so much how many calories but what is behind the calories that is the crux of the matter; a pregnant woman's diet should be packed with nutrients. A peanut butter and jam sandwich or a slice of pizza would yield the extra 300 calories but that is not as useful to a growing baby as say, a tub of yoghurt or a turkey sandwich for example.

So to fellow preggers out there who are gaining weight steadily but not excessively, as long as you are eating and exercising sensibly just shut out all the bollocks (and perceptions are just that) from the haters.

Salmon and other oily fish are an excellent source of omega-3 which is benficial to the cerebral development of growing foetuses and children.

Japanese-style Salmon

2 salmon fillets (about 200g each)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp Mirin
1/2 tbsp soy sauce

Heat a dry frying pan. When the pan is very hot, first place salmon fillets skin side down for 5 minutes. When you see the flesh has turned opaque half way up, turn the continue frying for 1 minute or longer if you like it well done. Remove the cooked fillets onto plates.

Into the juices left in the frying pan, add the rice vinegar, mirin, and soy sauce. Stir over high heat for about 1 minute.

Spoon this sauce generously over the salmon fillets and serve immediately.

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