Obesity and Reduced Sleep: Will Sleeping Less Make Me Fat?

by | Mar 29, 2010

Many studies have been published associating lack of sleep with increased body weight, but I have never read through the literature myself to explore the connection.

This week fellow scientist Matthew Constantin of Best Weight Loss Triumph gives us a thorough review of the science of sleep and weight gain.

Matthew Constantin, PhD, is a biologist and postdoctoral research scientist at Saint Louis University. Twice awarded research grants from the American Heart Association for his studies on cardiovascular disease, Matthew also has a keen interest in the related field of obesity treatment and enjoys explaining the latest scientific research on weight loss in a way that is easy for everyone to understand.

His website contains reviews of some of the so-called best rated weight loss programs and offers a savings coupon for Medifast, a clinically studied weight loss intervention.

Obesity and Reduced Sleep: Will Sleeping Less Make Me Fat?

By Matthew Constantin, PhD

We have long known that too little sleep causes fatigue and a slowing of neurocognitive functions, resulting in a variety of symptoms like slowed reaction time and difficulty concentrating. Recent research, however, has discovered a new result of reduced sleep: metabolic effects that include an increased risk of obesity [1].

Western society has seen a rapid rise in overweight and obesity in recent decades. Accompanying this widespread weight gain has been a significant and rapid decrease in the amount of time the average person spends sleeping.

While young adults were sleeping close to 9 hours each night at the beginning of the 20th century [2], this had decreased to less than 8 hours by the late 1960s [3]. The trend is continuing into the 21st century. As of 2005, 16% of American adults were getting less than 6 hours of sleep at night, up from 12% in 1998.

Sleep and Obesity: A Subjective Study

Science has linked self-reported sleep habits and obesity for a number of years, but the precise relationship between the two has been difficult to establish. Because obesity is a risk factor for a number of diseases that can negatively impact sleep, such as sleep apnea, asthma, depression, and arthritis, it is hard to know whether reduced sleep leads to obesity or obesity leads to reduced sleep.

To shed some light on this question, data collected from 1986 to 2002 in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) was analyzed [4]. Women in this study were asked to report their sleep habits and body weight every two years.

The results of the study suggest that women who self-report receiving less sleep are more likely to gain weight and are at an increased risk for obesity in middle-age. In 1986, when the first round of data was collected, it was found that women who reported sleeping 7 hours in a 24 hour period weighed 2.6 kg less than those who slept 5 or fewer hours, and 1.3 kg less than those who slept 6 hours.

This pattern continued over the following 16 years, with women who reported getting 5 or fewer hours of sleep weighing the most every time weight data was collected and those getting 7-8 hours of sleep weighing the least. In 2002, those in the 6-hour group had gained 7.2kg (15.8lb) and those in the 5-hour or less group gained 9kg (19.8lb), while those in the 7-hour group had gained only 4.8 (10.6lb) kg.

Other prospective studies have found similar results among both adults and children, but there are a couple of caveats. Because the information in the studies is self-reported, it is subject to inaccurate estimates by the reports. Many people overestimate sleep time when self-reporting. It is also unknown whether shorter sleepers are heavier because of an increase in fat or an increase in lean muscle—a distinction which makes a significant difference for health repercussions.

Sleep and Obesity: An Objective Study

In response to the limitations of subjective studies on sleep and obesity, two groups of adults aged 65+ (one of men and one of women) took part in an objective study that also looked at sleep duration and weight. Rather than relying on self-reported data, participants’ sleep patterns were assessed through the use of wrist actigraphy, which determines if a person is asleep or awake by measuring wrist movement.

This objective measurement of sleep duration confirmed the results of the subjective study, finding that reduced sleep was associated with an increased Body Mass Index (BMI) among both men and women. When compared with those getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, average BMI of those who slept less than 5 hours was higher by 2.5 units in men and by 1.8 units in women. Moreover, men getting 5 or fewer hours of sleep were 3.7 times more likely to be obese, while women were 2.3 time more likely.

Increased weight doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in fat and its related health problems—more muscle also means more weight, but is generally associated with improved health. The objective study looked at this question and found that the increase in weight associated with reduced sleep was a result of increased fat rather than muscle. Overall percent body fat in those sleeping less than 5 hours was 1.7% greater than those getting 7-8 hours, and percent body fat in the trunk 1.9% greater.

Why Could Reduced Sleep Make You Fat?

Research has clearly shown that reduced sleep is associated with greater weight, but why does reduced sleep make a person fat?

One strong hypothesis is that less sleep leads to increased or altered food intake. Animals studies have found that sleep deprivation leads to elevated levels of hunger [5], with particular increases for high-fat and high-carbohydrate foods. This increased hunger with sleep deprivation may be a result of the corresponding change in hormones that regulate hunger, with gherlin levels found to increase and leptin levels to decrease.

Alternatively, rather than a change in feelings of hunger, increased food intake could be the result of increased eating even in the absence of hunger. Reduced impulse control and trouble delaying gratification are known consequences of sleep deprivation.

It’s also possible that simply being awake more often will lead to increased eating when food is readily available, especially if time awake is spent in sedentary activities that encourage snacking.

As S.R. Patel mentions in his 2009 review paper titled “Reduced sleep as an obesity risk factor”, there are several other possibilities that have been proposed. One is that the feelings of fatigue that are associated with sleep deprivation may result in a disinclination to exercise. Another is that reduced sleep results in a reduction in involuntary activities such as fidgeting, which are known to have effects on weight regulation [6].

Finally, acute sleep deprivation has been found to result in a drop in core body temperature, meaning your body needs to spend less energy in order to maintain thermoregulation with the surrounding air. This change in thermogenesis (the process of heat production) may encourage the storing of fat, although a recent study found no effect of sleep deprivation on resting metabolic rate.

Conclusions

Current evidence clearly shows that short sleep is associated with obesity, but a causal relationship remains unclear. Does a reduction in sleep lead to weight gain, or is there some other reason for the association? We don’t yet know for sure. But as modern society sets aside less and less time for sleep and becomes increasingly prone to obesity, it is a possibility that must be considered.

With so few effective ways to prevent and treat obesity, wouldn’t it be wonderful if simply sleeping a bit more could keep us both thinner and healthier?

References

1. Patel, S.R. Short sleep and obesity. International Association for the Study of Obesity. Obesity Reviews 10 (Suppl. 2), 61–68.

2. Terman L, Hocking A. The sleep of school children, its distribution according to age, and its relationship to physical and mental efficiency. J Educ Psychol 1913; 4: 269–282.

3. Tune GS. Sleep and wakefulness in normal human adults. Br Med J 1968; 2: 269–271.

4. Patel SR, Malhotra A, White DP, Gottlieb DJ, Hu FB. Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women. Am J Epidemiol 2006; 164: 947–954.

5. Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Sleep curtailment in healthy young men is associated with decreased leptin levels, elevated ghrelin levels, and increased hunger and appetite. Ann Intern Med 2004; 141: 846–850.

6. Levine JA, Eberhardt NL, Jensen MD. Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science 1999; 283: 212–214.
Matthew Constantin

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Farmers Market Update: First Strawberries

by | Mar 28, 2010
First Strawberries

First Strawberries

The moment we’ve all been waiting for has finally come. The first strawberries of the season have arrived! And what a day for them to appear.

Today is easily the most beautiful we’ve had so far this year in SF. Of course this means my pictures didn’t turn out as well, since there was too much light. But it also meant I made my first salad of 2010!

Salad FTW!

Salad FTW!

Warm sunshine always inspires me to make salad, but the appearance of cucumbers, sugar snap peas and these adorable bolero carrots helped too.

Bolero Carrots

Bolero Carrots

Mediterranean Cucumbers

Mediterranean Cucumbers

Beyond these new additions, the selection this week at the farmers market wasn’t too different from last week. I’m going take this opportunity to cut this post a bit short and go enjoy the beautiful day. I hope you all have a lovely weekend!

Spring Tomatoes

Spring Tomatoes

Cardoon

Cardoon

Today’s purchases:

Are there strawberries at your market yet?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 26, 2010

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

I was so focused on finding new material to share with you that I nearly forgot that yesterday was the 1 year birthday of Summer Tomato! Thanks to all of you who have supported me and this blog over the past 12 months. I can’t tell you how much your kind and thoughtful emails and comments mean to me. I feel blessed everyday to have such an amazing community of people who love life, food and health as much as I do, and I look forward to much more to come. Cheers!

I also want to remind you that Summer Tomato readers can still get 20% off all online purchases at Samovar Tea Lounge until March 31. Samovar has amazing teas and tea accessories. I definitely recommend browsing their shop if you’re a tea fan.

Use the code: summertea at checkout to apply the discount.

There was some interesting news this week (and some BS called) on both saturated fat and high-fructose corn syrup, the foods Americans love to hate. The science is complicated, so be sure to read the stories carefully. Also don’t miss the video of Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss causing trouble down at my beloved San Francisco Ferry Building.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

What made your meals happy this week?

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Shocking: Sugar Content of Common Food Products

by | Mar 24, 2010
Sugar

Photo by Uwe Hermann

Refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup are considered by many experts to be the biggest contributors to obesity and poor health in Western civilization.

In her book What To Eat, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU and blogger at Food Politics suggests that any food that contains more than 15 grams of sugar per serving is closer to dessert than anything else. Though this number is arbitrary, it is a good benchmark for evaluating food products.

Obviously sugar content is not the only factor in a food’s nutritional value (and not all of these have added sugar), but it can be illuminating to see the relative amounts in the foods we consume.

Just for fun I looked up the sugar content of a few common foods and menu items. I hope you’re as horrified as I am.

Listed values are as close to a normal serving as I could approximate. Units are listed as grams of sugar.

Sugar Content of Common Food Products

1. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut …………………………………………………10 g

2. Luna Bar berry almond ……………………………………………………………………………11 g

3. Froot Loops breakfast cereal 3/4 cup ……………………………………………………12 g

4. Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream ………………………………………………………………..16 g

5. Starbucks caffè latte grande 16 oz ………………………………………………………..17 g

6. Godiva 2 truffles ……………………………………………………………………………………….17 g

7. Subway 6″ sweet onion teriyaki chicken sandwich ……………………………….17 g

8. Ms. Field’s chocolate chip cookie …………………………………………………………….19 g

9. Tropicana 100% orange juice 8 oz …………………………………………………………25 g

10. Yoplait original yogurt ……………………………………………………………………………27 g

11. Craisins dried cranberries 1/3 cup ……………………………………………………….29 g

12. Vitamin Water 20 oz bottle ………………………………………………………………….33 g

13. Oscar Mayer Lunchables crackers, turkey & American cheese ………….36 g

14. Coca-Cola Classic 12 oz can …………………………………………………………………39 g

15. Sprinkles Cupcake red velvet ……………………………………………………………….45 g

16. California Pizza Kitchen Thai chicken salad ………………………………………….45 g

17. Jamba Juice blackberry bliss 16 oz ……………………………………………………….49 g

18. Odwalla SuperFood 450 ml bottle ………………………………………………………..50 g

19. Starbucks caffe vanilla frappuccino grande 16 oz ………………………………58 g

Take home messages:

  • Foods we recognize as dessert (e.g. doughnuts, ice cream, cookies) often have far less sugar than things we consider “healthy” (e.g. juice, yogurt, dried fruit).
  • Froot Loops aren’t necessarily better than doughnuts.
  • Energy bars are glorified candy.
  • Dessert is sometimes hidden in things like sandwiches.
  • Some foods marketed to children aren’t much better than soda.
  • A salad can have as much sugar as one of the biggest cupcakes I’ve ever seen.
  • “Natural” foods can have lots of sugar.
  • The worst offenders are drinkable.
  • Starbucks is why you’re fat.

How much sugar is in your favorite foods?

If you like this story follow me on the new Digg!

StumbleUpon.com

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Why I Love WeightWatchers But Would Never Go Back

by | Mar 22, 2010

I used to look like this. Not anymore.

Nothing makes me happier than helping someone discover real food. Not only does their health physically transform, but they learn about a world of tastes and flavors that can be truly life changing.

My friend E began her healthstyle upgrade at the beginning of 2010, and I’m delighted that she agreed to share her story with Summer Tomato readers.

E. Foley is a geek girl extraordinaire. She writes amazing online dating profiles for geeks and non-geeks, helping clients all over the world find love. Her writing can be found at Examiner.com, Dating Sites Reviews, and elsewhere as a ghostwriter. By day, she is the Copywriter at ThinkGeek.

Follow her @geeksdreamgirl on Twitter.

Dating profiles for geeks = http://geeksdreamgirl.com

Why I Love WeightWatchers But Would Never Go Back

By E. Foley

My name is E and in 2003, I became a Lifetime Member of WeightWatchers after losing nearly 50 pounds and reaching my goal weight of 145.

Fast-forward to 2010, and I now weigh over 230 pounds. I’m 5’7″.

I gained back every pound I lost on WeightWatchers and then some. I did try to lose it. Over and over and over again I rejoined WeightWatchers and lost a handful of pounds before slipping back into bad habits and regaining them.

There is so much I love about the WeightWatchers program, but in the end, it’s Darya’s Healthstyle that has been the best choice for me.

Things I Loved About WeightWatchers

Weekly accountability

Knowing that I had to step on the scale in front of a staff member every Saturday motivated me to stay on track.

Group support

It may sound dumb, but it really felt good to have the group applaud for me when I had a good week. Knowing they’d be there to support me on a bad week was also comforting.

Balanced nutrition

I’ll get into this more later, but the WeightWatchers program, if followed to the letter, is nutritionally sound.

Role models

All the staff members are Lifetime Members, and there are always a few Lifetime Members who attend weekly meetings.

Things to ponder

Every meeting gave me something to think about, a food or recipe I wanted to try, or a warm fuzzy feeling that propelled me into the week.

Reasons Why I Can’t Go Back to WeightWatchers

Gaming the System

When I achieved Lifetime status, it was on the Flex plan. This plan allows you a certain budget of Points per day which you can spend on various types of food. The Points value of the food depends on its calories, fat, and fiber. Many vegetables are zero points, which you’d think would encourage their consumption. Not so. When I reached my goal weight, I was burning calories like mad at a gym. Some days I did two cardio classes in a row and then yoga or Pilates. This allowed me to earn Activity Points which I then spent on those tasty (but sugary!) Milk & Cereal bars that are anything but healthy.

When I regained the weight and went back to WeightWatchers, I jumped back into the same Flex program. The game for me was figuring out how to play the numbers so they added up on paper to the magic number. It got to the point where I could be “perfect” on paper but not lose a single pound.

Frustrated, I’d quit.

WeightWatchers’ Attempt at Healthstyle Fails

Later, WeightWatchers rolled out the Core program and I saw success again. Core allowed members to eat lean meats, fat-free dairy, fruits and vegetables “until satisfied.” A weekly Points budget allowed eating things that weren’t Core (namely carbs, sugars, and fats). Also included on the “free to eat” list was your daily serving of heart-healthy oils.

But Core wasn’t popular among the WeightWatchers membership. In my meetings, I’d often be the only person in the room on Core, so advice in the meeting was tailored toward Flex members. Sometimes I’d get lucky and have a leader who was on Core, but not always. Even though I was losing weight regularly on Core, the lack of support for the program made going to meetings not as helpful or motivating. WeightWatchers finally eliminated the Core program, going back to a One-Plan-Fits-All mentality.

Eat Healthy OR Filling

Remember how I said that the plan is nutritionally sound if followed to the letter? The problem with WeightWatchers is that as long as you lose weight, no one questions what you’re eating. I wish I still had my food journals from those days, because I can tell you I went full weeks without consuming a vegetable or fruit.

In the meetings, the leader would talk about getting your heart healthy oil in every day, and inevitably, someone would complain about having to “waste Points” on olive oil, when they could just use a few spritzes of aerosol cooking spray instead. When you’re working with 20 points per day (which is what I was eating when I was close to my goal weight), it does seem like a waste to use 4 of those points for a tablespoon of olive oil. Especially when 4 points could be spent on bread or meat or cheese. Or a Milk & Cereal bar.

Diet For Life?

My biggest problem with WeightWatchers is that it never felt like a way to eat for the rest of my life. Maybe it did for a while, but once hard times hit, I didn’t have the incentive to stick to my guns and eat healthy, mainly because what I ate when I was on program wasn’t all that tasty. (WeightWatchers has tons of recipe books, but all the recipes are pretty bland and uninspired.)

Finding Darya Was The Best Thing That Happened To Me

Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, says that “the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” This is exactly how I feel about my new healthstyle.

I don’t feel stressed out about food.

I don’t feel deprived of things I want to eat.

I don’t look forward to the day I get to “eat normal” again.

I don’t feel like the way I am eating is a ball and chain.

I don’t eat food that doesn’t taste delicious.

My Healthstyle

Breakfast: Every other Sunday, I make a giant batch of breakfast hot pockets from scratch. I have played with the dough recipe a bit to decrease the white flour down to 5 cups white, 3.5 cups wheat, 1.5 cups almond meal. Since my boyfriend is vegetarian, we use the sausage substitute. They freeze well and reheat in the microwave in 95 seconds. I love them because I am not a morning person, so I wake up as late as possible and eat on my drive to the gym.

Exercise: I am blessed to have a work schedule that allows me to work out from 8:30-9:45 a.m. just about every day. I do miss the gym from time to time, but I’m there more days than I’m not, which is a great start!

Lunch: I love salad bars, but they’re so expensive. So I started up a Salad Club at my work! We have anywhere from 4 to 6 people who participate each week, pitching in various veggies and fruits and toppings and dressings. If you’re curious, follow me on Twitter and you can see a picture of my Salad Club every weekday. When I’m lunching at home, it’s usually kale with toasted nuts and garlic and whatever leftover grain I have in the fridge.

Snacks: Back in my WeightWatchers days, I avoided nuts. Too high in calories, too high in fat, too many Points! Now, I have a variety of nuts on my desk at work and usually eat an ounce or two of nuts every day. They really help bridge the gap between meals and prevent me from snacking on the junk food in the office kitchen.

Dinner: I make all sorts of great things for dinners now. We still have our old standbys (vegetarian tacos & Annie’s mac n’ cheese), but more often than not, I’m surfing the internet for recipes after buying whatever looks good in the store (Sadly, being on the East Coast makes the farmers market thing a little less feasible in the winter. But spring is almost here!!). I think my favorite so far is the stuffed portobello mushrooms (pictured here).

The Bottom Line

I don’t feel like this is a diet. I feel like I’m eating better and tastier foods than I have in my whole life. I’ve eaten more nuts and olive oil in the past 3 months than I have in 3 years. But I’m losing at a steady rate of about a 1/2 pound per week. No, it’s not fast or impressive. But I’m eating amazing food, I’m never hungry (for long!), and I’m not killing myself at the gym to do it. If it takes me 3 years to get down to 140-150 again, that’s fine by me. The weight loss is just a pleasant side effect of my healthstyle, and I have Darya to thank for all her advice and personal coaching.

If you’ve been lurking on the blog and wondering about working with Darya to get your healthstyle on, take the step and do it. I feel so much better and the weight is melting off while I’m eating the most delicious food of my life. You can do it, too.

What is your healthstyle?

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Farmers Market Update: Spring Equinox

by | Mar 21, 2010
Cioggia Beets

Cioggia Beets

Last week we sprung ahead and this weekend marks the official spring equinox. Woohoo!

We have had absolutely spectacular weather here in San Francisco, which could not feel better after the months of rain we endured.

To celebrate I got myself some morel mushrooms, one of the true delicacies of springtime. Excitement is an understatement.

Organic Chard

Organic Chard

Morel Mushrooms

Morel Mushrooms

Another vegetable I couldn’t resist this afternoon were the beets. I am not particularly in the mood for beets, but they were everywhere and looked beautiful. I got one bunch of the lovely white and pink striped cioggia beets and one standard red bunch. Naturally I will use both the roots and the leaves.

Beet greens are an awesome substitute for chard or spinach. If you’ve never tried them I highly recommend it.

Beyond beets, other root vegetables including carrots, celery root and onions are in season and as sweet as they will be all year.

Shallots

Shallots

Carrots, Fennel & Celery Root

Carrots, Fennel & Celery Root

I’m also really enjoying the delicate little broccoli I’ve been finding lately. These little guys are sweeter and more tender than the big broccoli crowns. I can’t go a week without getting a bag full. You can also find this Italian variety, broccoli di Ciccio (the sign is spelled wrong). The flowers, of course, are edible.

Broccoli di Ciccio

Broccoli di Ciccio

Artichokes are something else you shouldn’t miss this time of year. The big ones are great, but I also love to cook up some baby artichokes with leeks and walnuts as a side dish or pasta topping.

Leeks

Leeks

Large Organic Artichokes

Large Organic Artichokes

And no talk of springtime is complete without mentioning asparagus. I have a wonderful recipe for balsamic asparagus and carrots. It’s very simple and incredibly delicious.

Asparagus

Asparagus

Finally, don’t forget about all the wonderful citrus, it will be disappearing in the coming weeks.

Kumquats

Kumquats

Navel Oranges

Navel Oranges

Today’s purchases:

Cutest Pug Ever

Cutest Pug Ever

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 19, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Welcome to Friday’s For The Love of Food, Summer Tomato’s weekly link roundup.

A lot of examples of healthstyle in action this week around the web. Some of my favorites revisit the principle of mindful eating, and why it is so important. In grosser news, what sort of sicko serves whale meat as sushi? “Would you like some baby snow owl with your endangered whale?” Jeez.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

Links of the week

I hope I’ve inspired you today :) Did I miss anything?

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How (And Why) To Cook And Freeze Large Batches Of Lentils

by | Mar 17, 2010
Collards, Carrots and Lentils Recipe

Collards, Carrots and Lentils Recipe

Healthy eating is important, but for most people (myself included) there are two factors that will almost always trump your best intentions to eat well: taste and time.

In the long run you will not win a battle of wills against your taste buds, and if you think about it you probably don’t even want to. If you hope to build long-term healthy eating habits I suggest focusing your efforts on making the food you cook at home taste as good or better than your default, less healthy alternatives.

Convenience is also a big factor in our daily food decisions. Time is one of our most precious resources, and although I recommend eating slowly I am a big advocate of cooking simply and quickly. In fact, one of the reasons I most often decide to cook at home is that making my own food is much quicker than visiting even the closest taqueria. It is also healthier and cheaper.

On a typical weeknight, I sit down to dinner 15-20 minutes after walking in the door. Granted, I usually cook for just myself, but doubling my recipes is fairly easily and doesn’t cost much in time.

This kind of efficiency does require a bit of planning, however. My meals are typically composed of a big pile of vegetables and either beans, lentils, eggs, fish, intact whole grains, or some combination of these. Half the battle is being sure these things are in your home when you need them.

My fridge is always stocked with fresh vegetables and herbs from my weekly farmers market trip. I also usually set aside a little time each week to cook a large batch of either beans or lentils, which are among my absolute favorite foods for adding substance, texture and a world of flavor to dishes.

I’ve written before about how I make beans using a pressure cooker, but today I want to focus on lentils. Lentils are smaller and more delicate than most beans. As a result, they cook faster and don’t require as much culinary foresight (beans require an overnight soak, while lentils do not).

There are many varieties of lentils. Some are more firm and keep their shape after cooking, making them ideal for adding to stir fries and salads. They can also be used as a substitute for or addition to grain dishes. Examples of firm lentils are French green, black beluga and the most common Spanish brown varieties.

Yellow, red and orange lentils are even smaller and more delicate, which causes them to fall apart and turn to liquid during cooking. These lentils are common ingredients in soups, stews and Indian food.

Because I frequently use lentils as a last minute addition to vegetable dishes to make them more substantial, I have worked to optimize the cooking and storage for a few of the firm varieties. My preference is for the French green and black beluga, but since black lentils are harder to find I performed my experiments exclusively on the green and brown varieties.

My goal was to find the optimal cooking time and the best freezing methods for lentils. Specifically I was hoping to find a convenient method of freezing individual servings that could be stored indefinitely and used within minutes at any time, similar to my method of freezing brown rice.

Traditionally I cook lentils on the stove top in a regular covered sauce pan, but this time I also tried the pressure cooker to see if it could reduce cooking time. In each of my experiments I used 1 cup of dry lentils and 6 cups of water with salt. I added the lentils to a pot of cold water and started my timer when the pot hit the flame.

When preparing lentils, always be sure to rinse them and check for small pebbles before cooking. I do this by slowly pouring my dry lentils into a fine mesh strainer (while checking for pebbles), then rinsing them under the faucet for 30 seconds or so.

A few things surprised me during my experiments. The first is that French green lentils have a much more robust, complex flavor than brown lentils, which have a more subtle flavor and creamier texture. Brown lentils also retained more water and didn’t hold their shape quite as well as the green lentils, and took substantially longer to cook. For these reasons, I strongly preferred the green lentils in my experiments, though I would happily use brown lentils in a hearty stew or as a bed for meat or poultry.

Additionally, because brown lentils didn’t hold their shape as well, I was unable to freeze them in individual plastic wrapped servings like rice. However this method worked wonderfully for green lentils.

As you might expect, my success at freezing lentils in plastic wrap depended on how much liquid I could remove from them before freezing.

For best results, strain lentils very well using a fine meshed strainer before wrapping in individual servings. Carefully place 1/2 cup of lentils in the center of a square of plastic. Fold two opposite edges over the lentils, twist the ends and tie them in a half knot at the top, trying to avoid folding plastic into the lentil ball. To use, run the frozen ball under warm (not hot) water until you can untie the knot. Place lentils in a bowl and microwave 2-3 minutes. Stir with a fork and use.

Both brown and green lentils also froze well in plastic tupper containers. If you know you will be using lentils regularly, you can split a batch you prepare into two or more containers, keep one in the fridge for use and freeze the others. When you are ready, transfer your frozen lentils from the freezer to the fridge the day before you want to use them. Alternatively you could freeze them in Pyrex or glass containers and simply microwave when you want to use them.

I was also curious if a pressure cooker could reduce the time necessary to prepare lentils. For beans a pressure cooker provides an obvious advantage, since on a stove top they can take hours to cook thoroughly. But lentils take only 30-40 min and do not require pre-soaking as beans do. Boiling lentils requires very little attention (make the rest of your food while they cook) and cleanup is easier, so I was curious if there would still be a time advantage using a pressure cooker.

I got different results for the different varieties. For green lentils the pressure cooker did not provide much of an advantage over regular boiling. I found the optimal pressure cooker time for green lentils to be 5-6 minutes, but it takes about 15 minutes for it to pressurize (could maybe be reduced with less water) and another 5 for depressurizing after cooking. Given the extra cleanup/hassle of using the pressure cooker over a sauce pan, the 35 minutes it took to boil the same amount of lentils feels like a better deal.

Another advantage of not using the pressure cooker for green lentils is it’s possible to check the texture as they cook. With the pressure cooker I found it was easy to undercook or overcook the lentils, and the time window was very narrow. This is not ideal if you want the lentils to keep their shape for freezing.

On the other hand, the time advantage gained by using a pressure cooker for the bigger brown lentils was substantial. Brown lentils cooked completely in 7-8 minutes in the pressure cooker, bringing the total cook time to under 30 minutes. However it took well over 45 minutes for them to soften up with boiling alone.

Though I didn’t test them in these experiments, my experience with red and yellow lentils is that they cook in a pressure cooker in about 4 minutes, much faster than simply boiling. This substantially cuts the amount of time it takes to cook with them.

Summary

French green lentils were my favorite for flavor, ease of cooking and storage. They are easiest to prepare by boiling with salt in a regular covered sauce pan for approximately 35 minutes. If well strained, they freeze beautifully in either individually wrapped balls or in a tupper. They can be kept 4-5 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Brown lentils take longer to cook and time is saved by using a pressure cooker. These lentils can be frozen, but do better in a large solid container than in individually wrapped servings.

Either variety stores well in the freezer and has the potential to substantially cut down on daily cooking times when prepared in large batches and used repeatedly.

Do you freeze lentils? Do you prefer to use a pressure cooker?

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Farmers Market Update: Portland

by | Mar 14, 2010
Cippolini Onions

Cippolini Onions

I’m honored to have my friend Matthew Shook share his experiences with you today from Portland, Oregon, which has now skyrocketed toward the top of my must visit cities list (beer, bikes and vegetables? Does it get any better?)

I hope you enjoy it!

Farmers Market Update: Portland

by Matthew Shook

A friend once asked me to describe what winter was like in Portland. I immediately conjured up images of Portlanders seeking shelter in coffee hangouts and microbreweries, slowly sipping their mugs of decadent java and pilsners of obsidian-colored stout; all while thumbing through used copies of Portland Noir while buckets of rain poured outside. When you factor in the short days of sunlight, well, everything about it seemed very dark.

With five straight days of sunlight and temperatures reaching into the 60s, the landscape is transitioning to the bright green of new growth and the brilliant pink of cherry blossoms. I’m thrilled to say that winter in Portland is now unofficially over. (Next week it’ll become official, at least according to the vernal equinox.)

Broccoli Seedling

Broccoli Seedling

Apple Cider

Apple Cider

Portlanders are very proud people. When they set their mind to something they fully commit themselves to the point of being almost obsessive about it. Take beer and bikes for example.

Portland boasts the largest number of microbreweries in the nation (some argue in the world), and that’s not even including the hundreds of DIY brewers operating out of their basements. You’d be hard pressed to walk two city blocks without running into a brewery or a bar that serves local beer on tap. This city-wide obsession earned Portland the moniker “Beertown” (or “Beervana” as many beer elitists prefer).

Yellowfoot

Yellowfoot

Portland is considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, second only to Amsterdam. Extensive bike lines and corridor trails accommodate over 15,000 bike commuters per day, and the city recently adopted a $613 million plan to further expand bicycling infrastructure and safety measures.

Leeks

Leeks

Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads

It may be hard to believe, but Portlanders are as fanatical about their Farmers Markets as they are their beer and bikes. With over 30 active Farmers Markets within the Portland Metro area, there is no shortage of fresh local produce for Portlanders–even during the winters, which can occasionally be quite harsh.

Many of the major markets like the Downtown PSU Farmers Market will have their celebratory season openings in the next few weeks, so for this Farmers Market Update I visited the Hillsdale Farmers Market that operates year-round. This farmers market is a great mid-size venue with over 40 vendors in the winter, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi

There are still signs of winter with a good selection of winter produce like potatoes, parsnips, turnips, leeks, onions and kohlrabi. These are excellent items to throw into a hearty winter soup.

I spotted some delicious greens such as rapini, bok choy, nettle, fennel, spinach and kale.

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs

Sunchokes

Sunchokes

There were a few really unique items that caught my attention. The Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes), fiddleheads and wild mushrooms were an interesting find. Wild mushrooms are quite popular (and abundant) in Oregon and there was no shortage of varieties available. The various fungi included yellowfoot, lion’s mane, hedgehog and maitake, amongst others.

Mushroom Prep

Mushroom Prep

Nonna's Noodles

Nonna's Noodles

I met two very friendly and informative vendors who each honed their respective crafts in Europe. Sara-Beth, the owner of Nonna’s Noodles, makes fresh hand-made organic pasta from her Grandmother’s old recipe. Edgar of Fressen Artisan Bakery brings amazing fresh baked European-style bread and is a vendor at several Farmers Markets around Portland. I’m partial to his Bierbrot (Sourdough Beer bread) and Kalamata olive handiwork. I know what some of you may be thinking, “pasta and bread on Summer Tomato?” These are definitely worth indulging in for those special meals.

Meats

Meats

Fraga Farm Cheese

Fraga Farm Cheese

There was some amazing organic goat cheese being sold by Fraga Farms, a staple a local Farmers Markets and Co-ops.

There were several meat vendors selling both fresh and pre-packaged salmon, as well as booth duck, pheasant, buffalo, elk and yak meat.

Fressen Bread

Fressen Bread

One vendor was selling a huge variety of winter/early spring produce seedlings such as beets, endives, broccoli and peas.

One neat aspect of many Portland Farmers Markets is that several accept the Oregon Trail Card (the local equivalent of food stamps). At the main information booth you can swipe your card and receive an amount you specify in wooden dollars that can be spent at any vendor. I believe it’s a great way to encourage those suffering from financial hardship to eat healthy and support their local farmers.

Lion's Mane

Lion's Mane

Wooden Dollars

Wooden Dollars

Today’s Purchases:

  • Organic leek (Gathering Together Farm)
  • Organic kale (Gathering Together Farm)
  • Organic Rose Gold potatoes (Gathering Together Farm)
  • Organic Jerusalem artichoke (Gathering Together Farm)
  • Sourdough Beer bread (Fressen Artisan Bakery)
  • Organic Spinich Linguine (Nonna’s Noodles)
  • Organic Chipotle Goat Cheese (Fraga Farm)
  • Oraganic Brocolli seedling (Gales Meadow Farm)
  • Organic Dwarf Sugar Pea Pod seedling (Gales Meadow Farm)
  • 100% Apple Cider (Drapes Girl’s Farm)

What unique finds did you come across at your Farmers Market?

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For The Love of Food

by | Mar 12, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Texas & Tea

Before I list off my favorite food and health articles of the week, I have a few announcements to make.

First, I’m leaving today for Austin, TX for the South By Southwest conference. If you’re going to be out there feel free to email or tweet me, I’d love to meet you. While I’m gone we’ll have a farmers market update from a good friend of mine in Portland, OR. I hope you enjoy it!

Also, I’m thrilled to announce that Samovar Tea Lounge is offering a special 20% discount for Summer Tomato readers on all online purchases from now until March 31. If you are familiar with Samovar, you know how awesome this is. If you don’t know about Samovar but love tea or are looking to explore it further, this is a great opportunity to indulge a little. They also have some great gift sets if you’re looking to get your Mother’s Day shopping out of the way early.

Discount is applied at checkout with coupon code: summertea

Links of the week

Enjoy and have a lovely weekend.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For complete reading lists join me on the social bookmarking sites StumbleUpon and Delicious. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you there. (Note: If you want a follow back on Twitter introduce yourself with an @ message).

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