Farmers Market Update: UCSF Mission Bay

by | May 9, 2009
Baby Spring Onions

Baby Spring Onions

If there is one thing I never do it is skip my weekend Farmers Market trip, but today I am skipping it. The weather is beautiful in Northern California and I am spending the weekend hiking, eating and drinking in Tahoe with family. It’s Mother’s Day, it’s springtime and, mostly, I really need a vacation. Don’t worry, when I get back I will be able to pick up enough vegetables at Bi-Rite Market to last me until the UCSF Mission Bay farmers market on Wednesday (10am – 3pm), so my healthstyle will not suffer.

In the meantime I want to share with you some details of the Mission Bay farmers market, which has been an absolutely splendid addition to our quiet campus since it opened on Earth Day. Although the market is rather small, the quality and variety of the vendors makes it always worth a trip.

I love the exotic Asian greens available at Her Farm, where I found these beautiful baby spring onions. Other vendors offer more traditional seasonal produce, like jumbo artichokes and purple cabbages.

Purple Cabbage

Purple Cabbage

Jumbo Artichokes

Jumbo Artichokes

Fruits are also plentiful, and I have found some amazingly sweet strawberries (3 different varieties) and juicy navel oranges (only $1/lb!!). New this week were apricots–still a little tart–which are the first stone fruits to appear at this market (cherries showed up at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market last week). Summer is so close I can almost taste it!

First Pick Apricots

First Pick Apricots

Huge Strawberries

Huge Strawberries

Probably the coolest thing about the new market is all the artisan vendors selling homemade pasta, cured olives, nuts, smoked fish, raw honey, fresh tofu, crusty breads, Mediterranean dishes and vegan cookies. Though some of these sellers only come every other week, their presence really transforms the market from a simple vegetable stand into a true artisan marketplace where you can compose full gourmet meals using high-quality local ingredients.

Raw Honey

Raw Honey

Il Pastaio Pasta

Il Pastaio Pasta

Tell us what you’re eating for Mother’s Day!

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For The Love of Food

by | May 8, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or my Facebook fan page know I read a lot about food and health. Every week I post dozens of interesting articles and tips I find around the internet, most of which I do not have time to blog about. In the interest of awesomeness (and time) I have decided to start posting my favorite articles from the week  every Friday in a new segment, “For The Love of Food.”

For those of you with time constraints or an aversion to social media, this should help you find and prioritize the most worthwhile food and health stories and recipes. It will also free me up to do more in depth research for my Monday and Wednesday posts, something I think we can all appreciate.

I work like mad to keep up with the most interesting news on the web, but I would love your help in this! Please feel free to send me your favorite links and I might include them in Friday’s post (with a shout out, of course!). If you think it is appropriate, you are welcome to send me articles from your own website, but please please please only send me your best material. My time is extremely limited and I hope no one chooses to abuse it by spamming me with every single one of their blog posts. But I do want to see your best work, so send it along!

If you find anything awesome that I missed, go ahead and leave us a link in the comments.

Oh, and since I know you’re wondering, yes I carved that heart out of a red bell pepper myself ;)

For The Love of Food

  • Freeze That Thought <<My favorite advice article this week about optimizing your freezer, by Mark Bittman at the New York Times.
  • Drink Away Dementia? <<There isn’t enough info about the role of food in cognitive health. I hope all the news is this good! From Medline.

Let us know what you think!

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Summer Tomato Book Review: The China Study

by | May 6, 2009

the-china-studyIn the first official book review at Summer Tomato I examine Dr. Colin Campbell’s The China Study. Several readers have asked about this book since I wrote last week about who you can trust for diet advice, so I think it is a perfect subject for my first review.

The China Study was published in 2006 and branded itself as “The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted.” It is written by Colin Campbell, PhD, a highly accomplished scientist that has worked for decades in the fields of nutrition and disease research. It was co-authored by his own son, Thomas Campbell.

Clearly both these men care deeply about health and nutrition and believe the information they provide can relieve a huge proportion of the world’s suffering. Their sincerity is apparent and, given the current dietary trends in Western culture, I am sure their recommendations would help the vast majority of people become healthier. Yet there are several logical flaws in The China Study that prevent me from giving it an A grade. Overall, however, The China Study offers a compelling view of nutrition and health from one of the leaders in the field and is worth reading.

gradebMy biggest disappointment with The China Study is how little of the book is devoted to the study itself–a large ecological-style research project, conducted by Dr. Campbell and his colleagues, examining the relationship between diet and health in rural China. As a scientist, I am a bit of a data junkie and always most impressed by strong statistics and rigorous logic.

UPDATE: [Denis Minger has taken it upon herself to re-analyzed the data from The China Study, and makes it pretty clear that Campbell vastly overstates his case. I agree with everything Denise writes, and every educated person who cares about these findings should read her analysis.]

Only a single chapter in the book is specifically dedicated to the work done in China (Chapter 4), and it conveys little new information. Most of Chapter 4 is spent reiterating the links between diet and chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, discoveries that did not surprise me in the least. The two most important novel findings reported in the China study are discussed below.

The China Study is divided into four major sections. The first section describes Dr. Campbell’s original research and is the part I enjoyed most. It begins by discussing his work in the Philippines where he discovered a tight link between animal protein consumption and a specific kind of liver cancer induced by aflatoxin, a dangerous poison that is sometimes found in contaminated peanuts. He follows up this work with extensive studies in his U.S. laboratory elucidating the mechanisms of cancer promotion by the main protein found in cow’s milk, casein. Dr. Campbell makes a compelling case that this protein can influence cancer development in the presence of an extremely potent carcinogen, and his work should be taken very seriously in this regard. However,  he goes on to argue that this finding can be generalized to support the view that all animal proteins promote cancer and he recommends they be completely eliminated from your diet.

This was a logical leap I was not able to make after reading through his evidence. What about the benefits of fish for the heart and brain?

As mentioned above, the final chapter of the first section describes the China study. According to the book, the Chinese consume much less fat and protein than Americans, but more fiber and iron. Nothing too surprising there. It also reports that rural Chinese have substantially less heart disease, cancer and diabetes than Americans, but in more urban areas where diets follow more Western patterns the incidences of these diseases are higher. Again, not surprising.

Two pieces of information out of the China study did pique my interest. The first is that participants in the China study reportedly consume more, not fewer calories than Westerners. This was true even for Chinese office workers who consume 30% more calories but weigh 20% less than average Americans.

Part of this difference was accounted for by differences in physical activity (even office workers in China get more exercise than we do), but not all of it. Data in the China study suggests that Chinese have a more active metabolism and burn more calories than typical Americans. Dr. Campbell argues that this is because they eat less animal protein and fat, but the China study is observational (non-intervention) and cannot prove cause and effect.

Isn’t it possible that the Chinese metabolize their food differently because it is less processed than Western food (no matter the source)? From the literature I have read, this seems like a more plausible explanation. But regardless of the reason, the data from China suggests that all calories are not created equal in terms of both health and metabolism. This argues against the dogma offered by most nutrition experts that a calorie is a calorie.

The other surprising finding from the China study is the degree to which blood cholesterol levels predict heart disease. Although most Americans assume there is some connection between blood cholesterol and heart disease, there is still debate regarding how strong this connection is. Data from the China study suggests lower total cholesterol levels decrease risk of heart disease and death. Moreover, the data suggests that optimal cholesterol levels are far below what are recommended by Western medicine (150 mg/dL to 180 mg/dL). The healthiest Chinese had total cholesterol levels from 170 mg/dL to as low as 90 mg/dL. In the China study, lower cholesterol levels were also linked to decreased rates of several cancers. However, some scientists question the validity of this data.

The second section of the book is titled “Diseases of Affluence” and discusses the role of nutrition in the various chronic diseases that plague Western culture. In the third section Dr. Campbell offers his ideal (i.e. vegan) diet. If you are not familiar with the literature on diet and nutrition Dr. Campbell does a decent job going over it, particularly with respect to the role of dairy in prostate cancer, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. However, most of this information is available in other books that are easier to follow and less dogmatic about the need to eliminate all animal protein from the diet, which even Dr. Campbell admits “has not been absolutely proven” (p. 242).

In my opinion the most incongruous part of The China Study is the fourth section titled, “Why Haven’t You Heard This Before?” Here Dr. Campbell goes into great detail explaining the ties between food industries, drug companies, our government and, sadly, our education system from K1 through post graduate medical residency. While this section of The China Study is fascinating, it dilutes the primary nutrition message of the book with a disconcerting illustration of the roles money and politics play in our education system. But despite the jumbled message, the facts provided in this final section of The China Study are eye-opening and may be the best reason to read the book. It is shocking to learn how deeply opposed to and uneducated most of the medical community is about the life-saving benefits of dietary intervention for chronic diseases. Personally I would have liked this section to be an entirely separate book, as I would recommend it more often.

To summarize, The China Study provides an interesting but not entirely compelling argument for adopting a vegan diet. It also offers a hefty dose of skepticism about who you can trust for nutrition advice, particularly when it comes to the medical community. Overall I enjoyed reading the book and, despite my criticisms, agree with most of it. I have no doubt that for the vast majority of Americans Dr. Campbell’s advice and recommendations would be immensely beneficial.

Final Grade: B

Please add your thoughts on The China Study in the comments below.

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Fatty Foods Enhance Memory By Same Mechanism As Emotional Learning

by | May 4, 2009
Go Nuts!

Go Nuts!

Have you ever noticed that some of your strongest food memories are of rich, fat laden meals shared with family and friends? According to new research, this may not be a coincidence. A study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences demonstrates that digesting fatty foods enhances memory consolidation using the same neural pathway as emotional learning.

This finding has far reaching implications for cognitive therapies to fight over-eating, but may also suggest new, easy to implement strategies for memory enhancement. Pistachios anyone?

In the study, rats being trained on memory tasks were administered a substance called oleoylethanolamide (OEA) that normally increases in the gut after the ingestion of dietary fat (not carbohydrate or protein). Several days later, the rats given OEA performed better on the tasks than rats that were not, demonstrating enhanced learning.

To determine the neural pathway involved in this effect, the researchers chemically blocked signaling in the region of the brain that receives neural inputs from the gut (solitary nucleus), which abolished the effect of OEA. Next they selectively blocked neural transmission between this region and another region of the brain that has been shown to be critical for emotional learning (amygdala). This also eliminated the memory enhancement effect of OEA, indicating that emotional memory and memory enhancement from fatty food ingestion share the same neural network.

These findings may partially explain the emotional component that is often associated with chronic over-eating, something that frequently involves learned habits triggered by emotional situations.

However, OEA does more than enhance memory. It is also critical in feelings of satiety after a meal (decreasing hunger) and has been implicated in controlling body weight. Is it possible this new information could be harnessed for the power of good?

Low-fat diets have proved to be a colossal failure for both health and weight loss, partially because they encourage over-consumption of starchy (usually refined) carbohydrates. Moreover, vegetable and fish oils are protective against many chronic diseases that plague Western culture. Regularly seeking healthy fats in your diet can help control hunger, promote weight loss and lower risk of disease. But it now seems that healthy fats could also be a useful tool in overcoming emotional eating, a problem more complex than the standard weight gain that comes from 21st century living.

Another interesting corollary of this study is that fat (specifically oleic acid, a healthy fat found predominantly in olive oil and nuts) may enhance learning and memory. Since the benefits of OEA were only evident when it was administered at the time of or immediately after training, the next time you study or prepare for a presentation you might want to have some nuts around to snack on. Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans and pistachios are highest in oleic acid.

Are you interested in foods that could provide cognitive enhancement?

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Farmers Market Update: Cherries and Videocast!

by | May 3, 2009

There is so much exciting news I don’t know where to start. Today I’m debuting the very first Summer Tomato videocast! This week instead of writing about my experience I’m giving you a video tour of some of my favorite places and things at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. The last 5 minutes is a live run down of what I brought home with me and why I bought it.

As my skills improve I’m sure my videos will as well, but please let me know what you think in the comments section of this post. In particular, let me know what works for you, what doesn’t, and if there is any specific content you would like me to address in future videos.

Bunch Carrots

Bunch Carrots

First Pick Cherries

First Pick Cherries

The other exciting news is that the first cherries of the season have arrived! When I see stone fruits I know that warmer weather is on the way and summer is right around the corner. Few things could make me happier.

Spring Greens

Spring Greens

Radishes

Radishes

Today’s Purchases:

  • Cherries (Twin Girl Farms)
  • Chard (Capay Organics)
  • Yellow tomatoes (Bruins Farms)
  • Basil (Chue’s Farm)
  • Cilantro (Chue’s Farm)
  • Thumbalina carrots (Eatwell Farms)
  • Strawberries (Dirty Girl Produce)
  • Breakfast radishes (Marin Roots Farm)
  • Scapes (Marin Roots Farm)
  • Torpedo onions (Everything Under the Sun)
  • Tatsoi (Star Route Farms)
  • Arugula (Star Route Farms)
  • Frisee (Star Route Farms)
  • Limes (Bernard Ranches)
  • Tangelos (Hamada Farms)
  • Meyer lemons (Hamada Farms)
  • Mediterranean cucumbers (Madison Growers)
  • Ramps (Far West Fungi)
  • Eggs (Soul Food/Prather Ranch)
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Who Can You Trust For Diet Advice?

by | May 1, 2009
3D Brain MRI

3D Brain MRI

Last time I gave you a list of 10 people you can’t trust for diet advice, but many of you were left wondering who can you trust? As I alluded to before, it is extremely difficult to give a generic answer to this question because, frankly, there is no single group of people I can point to and say, “These people always do it right.” This is never true.

Where To Start

In the comments on Wednesday, reader Steve Parker M.D. (blogger and author of The Advanced Mediterranean Diet – visit his new Diabetic Mediterranean Diet Blog) said he mostly relies on primary scientific literature for his information. “Primary” literature is the original study where the actual scientific data is published and analyzed. This is very different from a newspaper article or press release (what a newspaper article is based on).

Without a doubt going straight to the source is the best way to get the facts regarding food, health and nutrition, and this is exactly what I do.

The Catch

It would be wonderful if we could all read the science directly and decide for ourselves how to eat for health and weight loss. But unfortunately, most people do not have access to these studies unless you are on a university campus or pay the exorbitant subscription fees (hundreds of dollars) for each individual scientific journal (there are thousands).

Moreover, unless you have extensive training in biological sciences (more than a bachelors degree), these papers will make no sense to you anyway. Some people try to get around this by reading only the abstracts, but reading an abstract to comprehend a scientific paper is like trying to understand a Seinfeld episode by reading the TV Guide (only more irresponsible).

This is the root of the problem.

Scientific experimentation and analysis is incredibly complex and requires decades of training. Therefore the general public needs the data translated into plain English and explained in simplified concepts. It is tempting to believe that anyone with the appropriate education and a knack for writing can provide this service, however the nuances of data interpretation make this very tricky business. It is frighteningly easy to spin ideas and make claims the data does not really support. This is even scarier when you think of health and how many lives are at stake.

The difficulties that arise from this issue are far reaching. At the most extreme, we have seen that research funded by industry is biased toward a favorable result for the company conducting the research.

Another potentially dangerous scenario is the misinterpretation of data by press rooms and journalists, who then translate these false ideas to a wide audience. Finally there are well-meaning people who do their best to alert the public to important health concerns, but simply misinterpret the science for one reason or another.

Who Is Qualified?

Scientists Although I myself may be biased, I am inclined to trust the opinions of well-respected (highly published) scientists in the field of food and nutrition. Luckily, several of these people have written wonderful books clearly explaining the basics of food and health. Although I am probably the only person under 50 to have ever read these books, they are wonderful resources that I recommend whole-heartedly.

Here are my favorites:

Eat, Drink and Be Healthy by Dr. Walter Willett

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink

What To Eat by Marion Nestle

Smart journalists Despite my tirade above, scientists are not the only ones with good diet advice. Some journalists have the intelligence and tenacity to uncover all the necessary information and convey it to their readers. To know if you have found this kind of journalist you must read their work and make critical judgments about the logic and conclusions drawn from the data provided.

I have read more bad than good books by journalists, so please be skeptical of what you find. Note: extended book reviews are on the future agenda at Summer Tomato (for short summaries please read the captions under the books in the Summer Tomato Shop).

So far the most thorough analyses I have read from any journalist are the works of Michael Pollan. I also think the work of Gary Taubes is essential reading.

These are the best books on food and health ever written:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes

Trained nutritionists and dietitians I have also been impressed by many of the nutritionists I have encountered (especially Dinneen at Eat Without Guilt – find her on Twitter @EatWithoutGuilt). Nutritionists and registered dietitians are specialized in nutrition, food and eating. These professionals are skilled at working closely with an individual to develop personal eating plans. Although they are not specifically trained to read and interpret scientific studies, their education ensures substantial familiarity with the literature on nutrition, putting them ahead of most medical doctors.

Conclusion

In general you should be more skeptical than accepting of diet advice–particularly if the recommendations sound very strange or unnatural to you. However there are many good resources if you are careful to choose them wisely.

I am always looking for more book recommendations. See what I have read in the Shop and leave your additions in the comments.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in this lively conversation!

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