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A la carte: Taking a look at mints

| Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Keep your cool - and your coolers cold - this summer with help from a Mason Tumbler from Aladdin. The 20-ounce insulated blue-tinted mug works well with lemonade, smoothies or something more potent (we're thinking strawberry margaritas).
Keep your cool - and your coolers cold - this summer with help from a Mason Tumbler from Aladdin. The 20-ounce insulated blue-tinted mug works well with lemonade, smoothies or something more potent (we're thinking strawberry margaritas).

Tucker Yoder, executive chef of the Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va., offers his take on mint:

“Of all the varieties, I like chocolate mint the best. It has a dark note to it and seems less minty,” he says. “The most delicately scented and flavored leaves are the three or four tender ones at the top of the plant. I like the taste of mint and basil together; at the restaurant, we use the combination in a shaved asparagus salad with a licorice vinaigrette.”

His tips:

• Use lots of mint to infuse high-proof alcohol. Stuff 4 to 8 ounces (including stems) in a 750-milliliter bottle of high-test vodka. Let it sit for 3 or 4 days, then strain. We then like to add some bitter root, such as cinchona, and let that sit for 4 days. Strain, mix the whole lot with 250 or 300 ml of homemade honey syrup, and you've got a nice after-dinner drink. Keep it in the freezer.

• Make mint tea: Tear up a big bunch of leaves and throw them into a large Mason jar filled with water. Let it sit in a full day's sun.

• Don't chop it up too much. Use a sharp knife so it doesn't get all black.

Care and feeding of teeth

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one of every four adults older than 65 has no natural teeth. Which makes it a drag to eat corn-on-the-cob on the 4th of July.

Nutrients maintain strong teeth and strong teeth maintain our ability to get nutrients. Here's the latest on this topic from a recent position paper by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Bacteria that live in our mouth love sugar. When they feed on “fermentable carbohydrates,” they produce acids that destroy the protective mineral coating of tooth enamel. And they produce enzymes that attack proteins in the teeth. Result: weak, decayed teeth.

So what are “fermentable carbs” that pump up mouth bacteria? Beverages sweetened with sugar including soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sweet tea.

Here's the good news: Some foods and food ingredients can actually protect our teeth from decay. Chew on these:

Sugar-free chewing gum. Chewing stimulates saliva that bathes teeth with antibacterial agents that neutralize bad acids in your mouth. And the sweeteners used in sugar-free candies and mints — such as xylitol and mannitol — do not feed mouth bacteria.

Fresh fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C in these foods is used to make collagen — a vital protein for healthy gums — the better to support your teeth. And chewing these fibrous foods keep gums healthy and produces protective saliva.

Protein foods. Meat, eggs, cheese, fish, beans and legumes strengthen teeth and gums. Proteins also arm saliva with its antibacterial properties.

Whole-grain, low-sugar breads and cereals. They provide a host of nutrients that enhance our immune response to fight off pesky bacteria.

New school snack rules

The government for the first time is proposing broad new standards to make sure all foods sold in schools are healthful. The rule announced June 27 will apply to “a la carte” lines in school cafeterias, vending machines, snack bars and any other food sold regularly on campus. It won't apply to fundraisers, after-school concession stands, class parties or foods brought from home.

A separate set of rules already applies to free and low-cost meals in the main lunch line that are subsidized by the federal government.

Under the new rules, most food sold in school will now be subject to fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits. Snack foods will have to be less than 200 calories and have some nutritional value.

Some examples of what could be in and out under the rules, provided the items meet or don't meet all of the requirements:

What's in: Baked potato chips, granola bars, cereal bars, trail mix, dried fruits, fruit cups, yogurt, sugarless gum, whole grain-rich muffins, 100 percent juice drinks, diet soda (high schools), flavored water (high schools), diet sports drinks (high schools), unsweetened or diet iced teas (high schools), baked lower-fat french fries, healthier pizzas with whole-grain crust, lean hamburgers with whole-wheat buns

What's out: Candy, snack cakes, most cookies, pretzels, high-calorie sodas, high-calorie sports drinks, juice drinks that are not 100 percent juice, most ice cream and ice cream treats, high-fat chips and snacks, greasy pizza, deep-fried, high-fat foods

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