What Are Halal Foods?

Myriam Renaud wrote . . . . . . . .

During the month of Ramadan, for 30 days, Muslims who choose to fast will neither eat nor drink during daylight hours. At night, when they break their fast, many will only choose foods that are considered permissible under Islamic law. The Arabic word for such food is “halal.”

The halal food industry in the United States is expanding rapidly. A growing Muslim population, along with younger non-Muslim customers who consume these foods for non-religious reasons, drove overall sales to a whopping US$20 billion in 2016, a 15 percent increase since 2012.

To clarify, most foods do come under the category of halal for Muslims. However, under Islamic law, the following are not considered permissible: blood, alcohol and other intoxicants, pork, meat of carnivorous animals like wolves or coyotes, birds of prey such as vultures, amphibians, snakes, and animals that live on land and water like frogs. Meat and poultry are considered halal only if the animals are conscious when slaughtered and bleed out before they die.

To determine which foods are halal, Islamic jurisprudence draws on three religious sources: passages in the Quran, the sayings and customs of the Prophet Muhammad, which were written down by his followers and are called “Hadith” and rulings by recognized religious scholars.

One verse in the Quran says, “He [Allah] has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah.”

This Quranic verse merely states that animals are unfit to eat if slaughtered in the name of deities other than Allah, but jurists have further ruled that animals must be slaughtered in the name of Allah and by a faithful Muslim. Jurists don’t always agree however. For example, most jurists have ruled that shellfish is halal. Others disagree.

Though no federal laws regulate the use of the label “halal” on food products, states such as California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Texas restrict the use of this label to foods that meet Islamic religious requirements. Various private Muslim organizations also oversee the production and certification of halal products.

Ramadan is a time set aside to celebrate and reflect on one’s relationship with Allah. For many Muslims, this includes respecting Islamic law by making sure that halal foods await them at the end of each day’s fast.

Source: The Conversation

Grilled Beer-braised Beef Ribs with Asian Sauces


2 kg beef back ribs
4 (440-mL) cans dark stout beer, about 7 cups
3/4 cup hoisin sauce
3/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF.
  2. Trim silverskin membrane and any excess fat off ribs. Slice into 1-rib portions.
  3. Arrange ribs, meaty-side up, in a large roasting pan. Pour in enough stout to cover ribs. Cover with foil. Bake in centre of oven until meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours.
  4. Transfer ribs to a platter. Discard liquid.
  5. Preheat barbecue to medium-low.
  6. Stir hoisin with chili sauce in a bowl.
  7. Brush ribs with sauce.
  8. Oil grill, then barbecue ribs, with lid open, turning and basting often with sauce, until ribs are well glazed and heated through, 12 to 15 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Chatelaine magazine

Major Canadian Meat Processor Goes All-natural in Entire Line of Processed Meats

Hollie Shaw wrote . . . . . . . .

The latest TV commercial from meat processing giant Maple Leaf Foods features children at a spelling bee stumbling over the names of food additives such as maltodextrin and butylated hydroxytoluene.

“If you can’t spell it, you won’t find it in our food,” reads a caption at the ad’s close, leading to a shot of the company’s reformulated Maple Leaf-branded products and stated promise to convert the entire line to natural ingredients by the end of the year.

It’s part of what company chief executive Michael McCain bills as the “single biggest brand strategy initiative” in the 91-year history of the company, one which will see Maple Leaf switch 44 meat products that contain multi-syllabic preservatives and flavour-producing additives over to using basic ingredients such as lemon juice, salt and vinegar.

“Expectations had changed quite dramatically for some of the consuming public,” said McCain in an interview explaining the initiative, citing an extensive company research project involving 7,000 consumers. A third of the brand’s demand was coming from a group of parents wanting to feed their family luncheon meat or hot dogs free of ingredients such as sodium nitrite.

“Those people have greater expectations of the food that they are buying,” the CEO said. “We have engineered the food to avoid some of the crutches of the food industry of the past to give consumers what they want.”

But it remains to be seen how the sweeping initiative, part of a broader commitment by Maple Leaf to cut waste and energy use to become “the most sustainable protein company in the world,” will boost sales of its processed meats products, which have been flat to declining for several years.
That was despite solid returns from the additive-free segment of its business that Maple Leaf already introduced in 2010, a line of prepared meats under the brand Natural Selections.

Overall global demand for many processed meat products fell after the World Health Organization said in a 2015 report that processed meats, long containing ingredients such as sodium nitrite, are carcinogenic.

“I would point out that large food companies have had volume challenges in the last five years,” McCain said. “It’s not just a Maple Leaf issue, and it’s not just in this category.”

Large food companies have been trying to recapture traffic from a more health-aware group of consumers that have begun to avoid foods that nutritionists say are unhealthy in favour of more “real” or “natural” items, home-cooked meals using unprocessed food ingredients — whole grains, olive oil and fruit juices. While Maple Leaf also sells air chilled chicken and pork, it doesn’t break down its sales mix between those items and that of its prepared meats, such as packaged bacon and cold cuts.

In recent years, the real food movement has hit processed food-makers hard, leading to markdowns and tepid sales in the so-called “centre aisle” categories of the grocery store largely reserved for packaged food items. Sales of carbonated drinks declined 7.9 per cent between 2012 and 2017, according to data from market research firm Euromonitor, and cold breakfast cereal sales declined 8.4 per cent in the same period. Sales of margarine in the same period were weak, rising an average of 1.1 per cent annually.

“People are eating fewer prepared meats — that WHO report hit the industry hard,” said Kevin Grier, a food industry analyst at Guelph, Ont.-based Kevin Grier Market Analysis and Consulting, who said Maple Leaf’s natural ingredients initiative is a good idea.

“Data shows that consumers care about nutrition, price and taste, and I think this falls into the category of a wholesome, quality product with good ingredients,” he said. “I think it will help to differentiate them in a slow-growing marketplace.”

That said, Maple Leaf might be facing bigger issues ultimately in the face of growing competition from U.S. pork producers who have added more production capacity into the market, Grier said. Canada exports 60 per cent of its pork production and Maple Leaf is one of the largest industry producers. “We export far more than we can consume in Canada,” he said.

And Sylvain Charlebois, food industry expert and dean of management at Dalhousie University, said growing evidence of the benefits of eating more plant-based food and evolving consumer habits mean that Maple Leaf has a bigger issue on its hands.

“The narrative around animal protein is quite dominant, and it is not positive,” Charlebois said. “That is what Maple Leaf is up against. When Burger King starts to sell a veggie burger, it’s a sign. This goes beyond the ‘naturalization’ of an offering — it’s much broader than that.”

Maple Leaf has begun to diversify its offerings, acquiring two major plant-based protein companies the last year, Lightlife and Field Roast, and now has a market share of more than 50 per cent of the category in Canada.

While growth in the segment has been in the double digits, it is a minuscule part of the company’s overall business. “Relative to protein consumption in total it’s a small market, but it’s gaining momentum,” McCain said. “And as small as it is, small in the U.S. is pretty attractive to a Canadian company.”

When it comes to transforming the image and recipe of its classic Maple Leaf processed meat products, McCain, who was lauded for successfully reviving the company’s reputation after a listeria outbreak was linked to a Maple Leaf plant in 2008, admits it can take some time to change consumer perceptions and behaviour.

“As a brand marketer I am very conscious of the fact that consumer behaviour is highly habitual and it takes a long and sustained period of time to modify those habits and behaviours,” he said. Sales of prepared meats at the company were up in the first quarter, before the recipe and branding changes were announced.

“Early indications, whether they are extraordinarily positive or extraordinarily negative, don’t necessarily reflect the changing behaviour of consumers’ buying patterns,” McCain said.

Source: Financial Post

Six Years of Exercise – or Lack of It – May be Enough to Change Heart Failure Risk

By analyzing reported physical activity levels over time in more than 11,000 American adults, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers conclude that increasing physical activity to recommended levels over as few as six years in middle age is associated with a significantly decreased risk of heart failure, a condition that affects an estimated 5 million to 6 million Americans.

The same analysis found that as little as six years without physical activity in middle age was linked to an increased risk of the disorder.

Unlike heart attack, in which heart muscle dies, heart failure is marked by a long-term, chronic inability of the heart to pump enough blood, or pump it hard enough, to bring needed oxygen to the body. The leading cause of hospitalizations in those over 65, the disorder’s risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and a family history.

“In everyday terms our findings suggest that consistently participating in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, such as brisk walking or biking, in middle age may be enough to reduce your heart failure risk by 31 percent,” says Chiadi Ndumele, M.D., M.H.S., the Robert E. Meyerhoff Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the senior author of a report on the study. “Additionally, going from no exercise to recommended activity levels over six years in middle age may reduce heart failure risk by 23 percent.”

The researchers caution that their study, described in the May 15 edition of the journal Circulation, was observational, meaning the results can’t and don’t show a direct cause-and-effect link between exercise and heart failure. But they say the trends observed in data gathered on middle-aged adults suggest that it may never be too late to reduce the risk of heart failure with moderate exercise.

“The population of people with heart failure is growing because people are living longer and surviving heart attacks and other forms of heart disease,” says Roberta Florido, M.D., cardiology fellow at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. “Unlike other heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure or high cholesterol, we don’t have specifically effective drugs to prevent heart failure, so we need to identify and verify effective strategies for prevention and emphasize these to the public.” There are drugs used to treat heart failure, such as beta blockers and ACE inhibitors, but they are essentially “secondary” prevention drugs, working to reduce the heart’s workload after dysfunction is already there.

Several studies, Florido says, suggest that in general people who are more physically active have lower risks of heart failure than those who are less active, but little was known about the impact of changes in exercise levels over time on heart failure risk.

For example, if you are sedentary most of your life but then start exercising in middle age, does that decrease your risk of heart failure? Or, if you are active much of your life but then stop being active at middle age, will that increase your risk?

To address those questions, the researchers used data already gathered from 11,351 participants in the federally funded, long term Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, recruited from 1987 to 1989 in Forsyth County, North Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; greater Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Washington County, Maryland.

The participants’ average age was 60, 57 percent were women and most were either white or African-American.

Participants were monitored annually for an average of 19 years for cardiovascular disease events such as heart attack, stroke and heart failure using telephone interviews, hospital records and death certificates. Over the course of the study there were 1,693 hospitalizations and 57 deaths due to heart failure.

In addition to those measures, at the first and third ARIC study visits (six years apart), each participant filled out a questionnaire, which asked them to evaluate their physical activity levels, which were then categorized as poor, intermediate or “recommended,” in alignment with guidelines issued by the American Heart Association.

The “recommended” amount is at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. One to 74 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or one to 149 minutes per week of moderate exercise per week counted as intermediate level activity. And physical activity qualified as “poor” if there was no exercise at all.

After the third visit, 42 percent of participants (4,733 people) said they performed recommended levels of exercise; 23 percent (2,594 people) said they performed intermediate levels; and 35 percent (4,024 people) said they had poor levels of activity. From the first to the third visit over about six years, 24 percent of participants increased their physical activity, 22 percent decreased it and 54 percent stayed in the same category.

Those with recommended activity levels at both the first and third visits showed the highest associated heart failure risk decrease, at 31 percent compared with those with consistently poor activity levels.

Heart failure risk decreased by about 12 percent in the 2,702 participants who increased their physical activity category from poor to intermediate or recommended, or from intermediate to recommended, compared with those with consistently poor or intermediate activity ratings.

Conversely, heart failure risk increased by 18 percent in the 2,530 participants who reported decreased physical activity from visit one to visit three, compared with those with consistently recommended or intermediate activity levels.

Next, the researchers determined how much of an increase in exercise, among those initially doing no exercise, was needed to reduce the risk of future heart failure. Exercise was calculated as METs (metabolic equivalents), where one MET is 1 kilocalorie per kilogram per hour. Essentially, sitting watching television is 1 MET, fast walking is 3 METs, jogging is 7 METs and jumping rope is 10 METs. The researchers calculated outcomes in METs times the number of minutes of exercise.

The researchers found that each 750 MET minutes per week increase in exercise over six years reduced heart failure risk by 16 percent. And each 1,000 MET minutes per week increase in exercise was linked to a reduction in heart failure risk by 21 percent.

According to the American Heart Association, fewer than 50 percent of Americans get recommended activity levels.

Source: EurekAlert!

Why Exercise Isn’t Enough to Keep Your Heart Healthy

You may know how much you exercise every day. You might even know exactly how many steps you’re taking on a daily basis. But have you ever tallied up how many hours you spend sitting? For the majority of Americans, our days are largely spent seated: at the computer, in front of the TV and commuting to and from work. All that sitting can negatively impact your heart health, even if you work out every day.

“It’s common to not move much throughout the day, and then try to make up for that sedentary behavior with 45 minutes of exercise. I’m guilty of it too,” says Michael Blaha, M.D., M.P.H., director of clinical research at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease. “But that small period of exercise can’t compensate for a lack of activity all day long. We need both exercise and activity.”

What’s the difference between exercise and activity?

Exercise and activity are two different things. Exercise describes an intentional effort to raise your heart rate, strengthen your muscles and increase your flexibility. It’s structured time you set aside for focusing on your physical health. Activity, on the other hand, describes how much you move throughout the course of the day.

For example, a sedentary person spends much of the day sitting. An active person does things such as walking, climbing stairs, standing and moving around most of the day — this can be because you have a physically demanding job or are running after your children, or because you make an effort to walk during meetings or use a standing desk.

While we’ve long known that setting aside time to exercise and elevate your heart rate is a healthy habit, increasing your activity level is essential, too. The trend toward inactivity has been dubbed “sitting disease,” and research suggests that being too sedentary throughout the day can increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.

Do normal-weight people need to move more?

Being at your ideal weight is great for your health, says Blaha, but it’s not a complete picture. It’s possible to be slim but not fit. In fact, you could be at your ideal weight and still have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or high blood sugar, which can increase your chances of a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

“Exercising and frequently moving throughout the day are good for everyone, no matter what weight you’re at,” says Blaha, “Regular activity is a crucial element of maintaining good heart health.”

How active do you need to be each day?

A healthy amount of exercise and activity is:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three to five times a week
  • Getting five minutes of movement every hour
  • Walking 10,000 steps a day

“Although I’m a big fan of the 10,000-steps-a-day goal, your goal shouldn’t necessarily be to do those steps all at one time,” Blaha says. “It’s better to spread your activity out during the day and get steps in every hour to meet your goal.”

Activity trackers can be especially helpful in motivating you to move more. Besides recording your movement to show you how much activity you’re getting, modern activity trackers can boost your heart health by sending you alerts when you’ve been sitting too long.

“Ideally, you should both exercise and have a high daily activity level,” Blaha recommends. “Research indicates that doing one or the other doesn’t provide the same level of heart-protecting benefits as doing both,” advises Blaha.

Source: The Johns Hopkins University

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