Understand mixes and our bodies

Barbara Quinn / The Monterey County Herald Published May 16, 2013 at 05:00AM

Our friend Brad, the concrete man, poured a wet blob from his truck into a frame that was soon to become a concrete slab. And I was learning how this all worked.

“Smooth it lightly back and forth evenly,” Brad demonstrated with a giant spatula.

Kind of like icing a cake? I asked.

“Kind of,” he replied.

Cement and concrete are unique and specialized materials, I discovered from this expert. Concrete contains sand and gravel mixed with “cementing” materials such as limestone, silica and iron.

Of course this got my nutrition brain thinking about these same ingredients in our human bodies. Limestone is calcium carbonate (a common ingredient in calcium supplements). Silica is a form of the trace mineral silicon, which our bodies use in tiny amounts to strengthen bones. And iron is a key ingredient in blood and muscle tissue. When consumed in the right proportions, these nutrients do indeed help hold us together.

But here's an important nutrition point: Even though our bodies share some of the same cementing materials, we are not concrete slabs.

And it also helps understand the flawed nutrition logic of some who claim that “margarine is one molecule away from being plastic.” Fact is, margarine is made from vegetable oils. Most plastics are made from crude oil and natural gas.

But some plastics can be made from plant materials and vegetable oils, according to a great review of this myth by the Heart Foundation of New Zealand. Yet trying to equate margarine with plastic is like saying plain water is the same as hydrogen peroxide bleach because they share similar ingredients. They are definitely not the same.

But I digress. So we put the “finishing” touches on our wet concrete and I went to whip up some breakfast for the crew.

I reached for my favorite spice mixture and realized here was yet another mixture of ingredients to investigate.

And in my side-by-side kitchen comparison with plain salt, I smiled. One-fourth teaspoon of my favorite spice mix has just 95 milligrams of sodium — plus an array of other tasty and healthful spices to keep my body intact. The same amount (¼ tsp) of plain salt contains 590 mg of sodium. (Most of us would do well with no more than 1,500 mg of sodium in a whole day.)

As we finished our project, I also learned that concrete gets stronger as it gets older. And it cracks. So the secret, says Brad, is to make allowances for it to crack as evenly and gracefully as possible. I'll think about that, too.