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Farmers Market Update: Santa Monica

by | Dec 30, 2008

I finally made it to the big Santa Monica farmers market on the 3rd Street Promenade. Woohoo!

It was a beautiful, freakishly sunny December morning, exactly what I would expect out of L.A. I didn’t buy a lot because, well, I’m on vacation and actually live in San Francisco. But it was a great experience and I hope to make it back one day for their Wednesday market, which is apparently twice as big.

In a future post I will give all the details of how to navigate this particular market, including maps, parking info and what days not to go.

For now I will just say that if you are in the neighborhood it is definitely worth the trip. The pomelo I bought was by far the best I’ve had in this country (Thailand pomelos still win).

There were a bunch of things I would have loved to try if I could have brought them home with me.

Santa Monica purchases:

  • Fuji apples
  • Meyer lemons
  • Pomelo
  • Giant fuyu persimmon
  • Empress dates
  • Hydroponic baby bok choy
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Thought For Food Holiday

by | Dec 22, 2008

Due to Christmas, traveling and other holiday-related festivities, Thought for Food will be taking a break from blogging for the rest of the year. If there is any ground-breaking nutrition news or an urgent recipe that requires immediate attention I may post a story (or two). Otherwise expect us to resume full-throttle blogging in 2009.

In the meantime I will continue TwEating everything I consume for the Twitter community. I also share interesting news stories there. If you would like to follow me I’m @summertomato.

Have a happy holidays and always be healthy!!


Farmers Market Update

by | Dec 20, 2008


Winter solstice is tomorrow, so today was officially the shortest farmers market day of the year. And with Christmas only a few days away, the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market was filled to the brim with holiday cheer.

Here in the City, citrus has almost completely taken over as the most dominant fruit. The market also has lots of hearty greens and herbs, as well as winter squash and root vegetables.

I am going away again this week so I could not make too many purchases. The coolest thing I bought was a Himalayan Black truffle to go with my Eatwell eggs (another first time purchase).

Be very excited!

For those of you who are in to chocolate, Scharffen Berger has a new Brazilian variety that sounds amazing….

Next week I will be in southern California again. I will let you know if I find another good farmers market.

Today’s purchases:
  • Fukushu Kumquats
  • Himalayan black truffle
  • Sierra Beauty apple
  • Gold apple
  • Eatwell egg
  • Padrones
  • Asian pear
  • Midnight Moon cheese
  • Italian plum jam
  • Scharffen Berger chocolate (assorted)
  • Blue Bottle coffee
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Soda Tax Is A Great Start

by | Dec 19, 2008

New York Governor David Paterson recently proposed a state tax on soft drinks, defending his argument to readers on the CNN website.

After reading his proposal, I agree with him completely. I just wish Starbucks would be forced to carry some of the responsibility as well.

Taxing products known to be deleterious to public health is a proven way to reduce consumption, increase state revenue and raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk commodities (such as cigarettes). There is no reason to suspect New York wouldn’t see similar benefits in the case of soda. Junk foods and soft drinks are currently placing a tremendous burden on our society in both health care costs and lost working hours.

Moreover, high-fructose corn syrup (the primary sweetener in soda) is derived from corn crops that are heavily subsidized by the federal government. These subsidies artificially reduce prices of soda below the true cost of production. It is therefore hard to argue that the proposed tax is putting an unfair financial burden on consumers who wish to drink full-calorie beverages: currently it is the taxpayers who are footing the bill for the bad habits of others.

So although I still favor completely revising the farm bill, taxing consumption is a reasonable alternative.

Another thing to consider is that these products are essentially to candy what crack is to cocaine (quickly ingested poison), so they do indeed pose a unique hazard to American health and are thus an ideal target for the first junk food tax. The current proposal adds a 15% tax to non-diet sodas as well as fruit drinks that are less than 70% real juice, adding only a few cents to each individual purchase–$0.15 to the dollar.

Paterson estimates the tax will raise $404 million dollars in revenue for the state of New York, that would go toward public health programs, including obesity prevention.

Whatever happens, expect a ferocious battle from industry giants (and FOXNews). They will argue for consumer freedom and against the benefits of switching to diet soda (I agree with this one, no kind of soda is healthy), but will conveniently overlook the data linking junk food and soda to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer, as well as the costs to the American public.

The good news for the rest of us is that if New York does manage to pass this tax it is reasonable to expect California and many other states to follow suit (see trans fat and tobacco), resulting in a tremendous sea change in our nation’s policy toward junk food in general.

This is exactly the change we need.

Currently all Americans are paying for the poor nutritional culture our nation has embraced. The top 3 causes of death in the U.S. (arguably 5 of the top 7) are diet-related. It only makes sense to tackle obesity both as a nation and as individuals to protect our citizens and our economy.

Why Not Starbucks?

Unfortunately, right now it does not seem this tax will extend to the sugary cesspool which is Starbucks.

Did you know that a medium cafe mocha from Starbucks has more calories, sugar, cholesterol and saturated fat than a Krisy Kreme original glazed doughnut? Seriously, don’t go near that stuff.

It seems to me that Starbucks and other mega-chains (Jamba Juice?) selling sugar-blended drinks are just as liable as soda companies for promoting obesity with liquid candy, thus warranting the same burden of taxation.

I am not recommending traditional coffee drinks (espresso, cappuccino, etc.) be taxed–they do not contain sugar–but it is heartbreaking to see Frappuccinos being passed off as a morning pick-me-up when in fact they are no different from a milk shake with caffeine.

In short, I think this tax is a fabulous idea that finally begins to address the true costs of junk food and obesity, and I hope the trend continues.

How do you feel about sugar, taxes and Starbucks?

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FDA Revises Fish Recommendations: Is Something Fishy?

by | Dec 17, 2008

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking the White House to amend its own previous warnings that children and pregnant women avoid seafood for fear of mercury poisoning, the Washington Post reports. The agency argues that the neurological benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals are worth the risk of mercury poisoning.

But not everyone is happy about this.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other consumer advocate organizations are outraged by the proposed change, accusing the FDA of catering to fishing industries and ignoring public health. The EPA has called the FDA document “scientifically flawed and inadequate” and an “oversimplification” of the health concerns involved.

There is a large body of scientific evidence that mercury can cause problems in the developing nervous system, so the new recommendations would have to be careful to educate consumers about both the positive and negative aspects of consuming more fish.

I have not seen the report myself, so I cannot pass judgement immediately. However, as I have explained in Synapse the dynamics of fish consumption and mercury contamination are very complicated, particularly for children and pregnant women.

My advice is to be careful with fish regardless of what the FDA report says. While it is extremely important to consume adequate omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D from fish sources, mercury contamination is a serious concern that should not be overlooked.

To get the maximum benefit from fish and minimize mercury consumption

  • Eat fish at least twice per week
  • Avoid large fish such as tuna, shark and swordfish
  • Seek fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
  • Take vitamin D and omega-3 supplements (fish oil based) when fish is not available
  • Enjoy vegetarian sources of omega-3s like soy, flax and walnuts

Recently I have been experimenting with canned sardines and anchovies and they are much better than I expected them to be. I also enjoy canned salmon as well as smoked salmon or lox (but watch your nitrate intake!). If you can afford it, fresh fish is always wonderful.

Do any of you have strong opinions about the FDA report or know if it is available to the public yet?

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Quick Fix: Baby Bok Choy and Tofu

by | Dec 15, 2008

Bok choy with tofu is one of my favorite quick meals of the winter, and few seasoning combinations pack as powerful a punch as soy sauce and garlic.

Bok choy is also known as Chinese cabbage. This succulent cruciferous vegetable thrives during the winter months and is cheap and readily available at almost any market. I like the baby variety because it is easier to adjust the serving size and is simple to cook. If you can’t find baby bok choy you can subsitute regular bok choy and cut it up accordingly.

If you think you do not like tofu, my guess is that you just haven’t had it cooked like it is supposed to be and I urge you to give it another try. Most perceived taste aversions can be overcome with a little effort.

Tofu is not just for vegetarians. I have grown to like it so much that sometimes I get cravings for it. Strange, I know.

One of the wonders of tofu is that it absorbs flavors beautifully, particularly garlic. Moreover, adding garlic to soy sauce is one of the easiest ways to get everyone in the house out of their rooms sniffing the air and asking what heavenly dish you are creating. It smells amazing and tastes even better.

Baby Bok Choy and Tofu


  • 2-4 stalks baby bok choy
  • tofu
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Dark soy sauce to taste

Carefully rinse baby bok choy and cut into quarters, longwise. Once it is cut check between the leaves to be sure no remaining dirt is hiding in the stem. If there is rinse again.

Cut tofu into bite-sized cubes. Heat olive oil in a pan and add bok choy cut sides down. Cook for several minutes, then make room for tofu on the bottom of the pan and add tofu. Cook 2 minutes then stir, making sure to cook both faces of the bok choy and tofu.

Once bok choy begins to wilt and become a little translucent, add garlic to the pan in a single layer. Leave for about 30 seconds, then splash soy sauce liberally into the pan. I like to use a good quality dark tamari soy sauce for this dish. Stir and continue to cook.

Allow soy sauce to reduce until it begins to form a glaze on the bok choy and tofu. Turn ingredients once or twice so all sides get coated. Add more soy sauce if necessary.

Remove from heat when bok choy reaches desired tenderness, about 8-10 minutes. Serve on a bed of brown rice.

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Let’s Start TwEating!

by | Dec 14, 2008

Curious what I eat everyday? Follow me on Twitter!

Lately I’ve been investigating all these social media websites and wondered what to do with the Twitter phenomenon. For those of you who don’t know, Twitter is a networking service that revolves around the simple question, “What are you doing?”

In short, Twitter uses what is called a “Status Update” to let your friends know what you are up to and what you care about right now.

The beauty of Twitter is its simplicity, but this is also what makes it challenging to use as a tool. It is almost impossible to give too much information on Twitter, so whatever you communicate has to be simple and concise. Another term for Tweeting is “microblogging.”

So I asked myself, what am I doing?

Since my primary concerns are food and science, what I am usually doing is thinking about and eating food! I believe that what you eat can vastly improve your quality of life through great taste and better health, and I built this blog because I want to show you all how easy and delicious healthy eating can be. But I still often get questions about my personal habits and what I might do in certain situations.

To this end I have started Tweeting everything I eat, a term I refer to as TwEating.

If you do not use Twitter this may sound like a big time commitment, but it is actually a ridiculously small amount of work. Twitter only allows 140 characters to express yourself, so these TwEats are not very detailed and only take up seconds of my time.

What will be interesting, however, will be the archive that is created as a result of constant TwEating. You will be able to follow patterns and trends, and see firsthand how often we really have birthdays (and cake!) in the lab.

I hope you follow along and share your TwEating adventures as well. Some of you may be doing it already….

My Twitter profile is @summertomato.

In addition to TwEats, I also occasionally Tweet food-related news and science articles that I do not feel like writing entire blog posts about. Believe it or not, a lot goes through my brain that never makes it to SummerTomato. You can now find the overflow on Twitter.

What do you think about TwEating? Will you join me?

Bon Appetweet!

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Farmers Market Update

by | Dec 13, 2008

white winter pearmain

Today was yet another ridiculously beautiful day at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, despite the forecast for rain. I was really excited to find some new material for my meals this week, because I am completely sick of roasted root vegetables after eating them everyday for lunch since early November. Instead today I focused on green vegetables and fruit.

One of my most interesting discoveries was an heirloom apple called White Winter Pearmain. They look a little like your typical Golden Delicious apple, but the flavor was more aromatic and even floral. You should really explore the apple season this time of year, there is remarkable variety.

Finds like this make me feel so lucky to have this amazing market in my backyard.

I also picked up some kiwi fruit and another new persimmon, the tamopan. Apparently these are known as “hamburger” persimmons. I asked the vendor what they were like, but he did not exactly give a ringing endorsement.

“Funny looking things, aren’t they? What are they like? Don’t have much flavor, to be honest with you.”

I already had it in my hand, so I bought it anyway. I will let you know if I strongly disagree with his grim assessment, otherwise I’ll just spare you and drop it. One interesting fact is that they do have a slightly different shape than other persimmons, almost like a fuyu that has been squished (like a burger?). Maybe that is where they get their name.

Another first for me today was my purchase of Hodo organic tofu. Hodo Soy is a small, local tofu producer with products available at several different bay area markets. I tried it for lunch today and I do admit it was pretty amazing. Definitely get some if you find it.

Today’s purchases:

  • White winter pearmain apples
  • Sierra beauty apples
  • Organic kiwi
  • Chocolate persimmons
  • Hamburger persimmons
  • Rainbow chard
  • Fennel
  • Sweet piquillo peppers
  • Pomegranates
  • Romanesco broccoli
  • Hodo tofu
  • Meyer lemon
  • Baby bok choy
  • Broccoli shoots
  • Kabocha squash
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Secretary of Food?

by | Dec 11, 2008

An article by Nicholas Kristof today in the New York Times calls on president-elect Barack Obama to rename the Secretary of Agriculture cabinet position, suggesting the new title “Secretary of Food.”

The US Department of Agriculture was originally set up at a time when over one third of Americans were involved in farming. Now less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers. Kristof makes the case that the US needs to completely restructure the way government intervenes in food policy, reflecting the new issues that confront our nation.

Changing the title of Secretary of Agriculture to Secretary of Food (in essence, changing the name of the entire agency) would imply that government interest would be for consumers and food supply rather than for industrial agriculture.

Through government subsidies, health standards, farming practices and nutrition guidelines USDA policy has a tremendous impact on how Americans eat, in terms of both quality and quantity. This is particularly important because data on how America’s eating habits are affecting the health of our citizens and climate are staggering.

Currently, USDA policies are profoundly influenced by industrial agriculture lobbyists resulting in a collection of preposterous rules and regulations aimed to boost agriculture at the expense of, well, everything else.

One of my favorite examples of this is the USDA food pyramid. That milk represents nearly 25% of your recommended daily intake (of anything) is absolutely ridiculous and a perfect example of the strong influence of the dairy industry. From a nutrition science perspective, it is impossible to see how such recommendations are in the best interest of American eaters (aka you and me). The economy is important, but our health is equally if not more important.

Whether you agree with Kristof’s argument or not, it is good to be aware of what is at stake when you think about US agriculture and food policy.

On a related topic, Michael Pollan sat down with Bill Moyers recently to discuss his article “Farmer in Chief.” The interview is available for viewing on the PBS website.

Do you trust the current USDA to set food policy?

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You Should Be Taking Vitamin D Supplements

by | Dec 10, 2008
Vitamin D

Vitamin D

For the past several years the data in support of increasing vitamin D intake for every living human has been mounting. This week the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition features a collection of new research articles addressing the trends in vitamin D status and optimal dose recommendations.

This week’s take home lesson: While current research indicates we should be getting more vitamin D than is presently recommended, as a whole our vitamin D levels appear to have decreased in the past 15 years. The best way to combat this deficiency is with vitamin D supplements.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble prohormone and essential nutrient produced when ultraviolet radiation (UVB) contacts our skin. It is probably best known for its role in bone metabolism (it has been shown to be more important than calcium for maintaining bone health), however recent studies indicate that vitamin D is essential for other physiological process as well.

Low blood levels of vitamin D have now been associated with many different chronic diseases including cancer, coronary heart disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, tuberculosis, depression, hypertension, periodontal disease, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder and type 1 diabetes.

In light of these findings, many nutrition researchers have argued for increasing recommended levels of vitamin D intake, but making population-wide recommendations have proved difficult for world health agencies because of large variability and uncertainty in vitamin D requirements.

There are several things to consider when evaluating vitamin D status in an individual. Latitude (sun exposure) is probably the single best predictor of vitamin D status. Anyone living in San Francisco or further north cannot get enough sun exposure to achieve sufficient vitamin D status, particularly during the winter months.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, it is retained in body tissues for several months after sun exposure. For this reason, people living at far north latitudes are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency because they frequently do not store up sufficient vitamin D during the summer to sustain their needs during the winter.

To further complicate matters, it is incredibly difficult to obtain vitamin D through dietary sources. Fatty fish and eggs are the only natural sources of vitamin D, though they are probably insufficient to achieve optimal status. Milk and soy products are typically fortified with vitamin D, as are some juices.

Skin pigmentation, sun avoidance and body composition (high body fat) are all associated with vitamin D deficiency. Darker skin tones do not convert sunlight to vitamin D as easily as lighter skin tones. Sunscreen blocks virtually all vitamin D synthesis. Body fat reduces bioavailability of vitamin D tissue stores.

This week’s study by Anne Looker et al, suggests that increased body mass as well as awareness of skin cancer risk and use of sunscreen have contributed to a significant decline in vitamin D levels in north America in the past decade.

The good news is that supplementation does appear to be effective at improving vitamin D status. Though there is still some disagreement on what the optimum blood levels of vitamin D are, it is generally agreed that they are much higher than currently recommended by any world health organization. One of the principle motivations of the present studies is to inform new vitamin D recommendations.

Kevin Cashman et al offers estimations of dietary requirements of vitamin D for healthy adults. They performed a randomized, placebo-controlled study testing the effects of different vitamin D doses and how they effect blood vitamin D levels.

The absolute minimum amount of vitamin D supplementation recommended by the study is 8.7 ug/day, or approximately 400 IU. This was to maintain blood serum levels greater than 25 nmol/L, and is double the current FDA recommendation for people under age 50. However, this suggestion is only sufficient to avoid deficiencies associated with bone loss and not other chronic diseases.

“The data from the present study clearly show that vitamin D tissue stores, developed during summer via exposure of skin to sunshine, were not sufficient to maintain serum 25(OH)D concentrations of greater than 25 nmol/L in most of the population [during winter], and that dietary vitamin D is an absolute requirement to maintain status above this minimum threshold.”

But the recommendations do not stop here. To maintain blood serum levels of greater than 50 nmol/L–a range more consistent with lowering risk of chronic disease–the study recommends 28 ug/day or 1100 IU of vitamin D. To keep blood serum above 80 nmol/L (from all I have read this is what I would recommend), 41 ug/day or 1650 IU is needed.

Remember this is most important if you are overweight, live north of San Francisco, get little sun exposure or have darker skin. Very rarely do I recommend vitamin supplements (they are not usually effective and are sometimes dangerous), but in this case the evidence is unequivocal.

Vitamin D supplements are easier to find than in the past, but they are usually packaged with calcium and are insufficient in dosage. Men should be wary of excess calcium supplementation since it is associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer.

I will continue looking for a good vitamin D supplement and will post when I find one I am happy with. If you have any recommendations, please share them with us.

Look for supplements where vitamin D is in the form of cholecalciferol, or vitamin D3.

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