Farmers Market Update: Seattle

by | Aug 29, 2010
Blackberries

Blackberries

I’ve wanted a Seattle market update for so long. Huge thanks to Aubrey for making it happen.

Aubrey Bach is one of the co-founders of www.yay-today.com, a Seattle-based blog dedicated to sharing the best (and cheapest) things to do, see, buy and eat in the city.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the deals the girls at yay-today are busy finding, visit their blog www.yay-today.com, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @yay_today.

Farmers Market Update: Seattle’s University District

by Aubrey Bach

I am super excited to be representing Seattle for the Summer Tomato Farmer’s Market Update this week! I’ve been an avid reader of Darya’s for well over a year and love her enthusiasm for fresh produce and good food. Luckily, I live in Seattle, where you can find a neighborhood farmer’s market going on nearly every day of the week during the summer months, so I get to indulge in my own veggie voyeurism every week as well.

This Sunday, we headed to the University District Farmer’s Market, the oldest farmer’s market in Seattle (and one that’s been included in Huffington Post’s top 10 list).

Of course, I set out with my handy shopping list–it’s the only way to keep your grocery budget under control.

Blueberries

Blueberries

It hasn’t exactly been a hot couple of months, but the produce certainly looks like summer. The Pacific Northwest has the best berries I’ve ever tasted- blueberries are just barely hanging on, while blackberries are just coming into their own.

Who needs donuts when you have sweet, drippy donut peaches? YUM.

Donut Peaches

Donut Peaches

These baby carrots are pretty sweet too.

Baby Carrots

Baby Carrots

You can never have too many big bunches of fresh spinach. Of course, you don’t only have to stick to spinach when you have a variety of greens to choose from.

Greens

Greens

Spinach

Spinach

I’ve been having a major moment with radishes lately. So good in salads and on buttered bread. If you frequent a farmer’s market, you know that green beans don’t always have to be green.

Yellow Wax Beans

Yellow Wax Beans

Radishes

Radishes

Of course, you can’t post about Seattle without mentioning salmon. It’s what we’re known for–whether it’s fresh, smoked, or even roe! And it’s freshest (and definitely the best value) when you buy it from fisherman at the farmer’s market.

Smoked Salmon

Smoked Salmon

This week’s haul:

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For The Love Of Food

by | Aug 27, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

Really good reading this week. I love Marion Nestle’s commentary on meat substitutes, as well a bunch of well-designed studies linking nutrition and the brain. And definitely don’t miss Time magazine calling out the crappy Twitter streams of the culinary glitterati. Ha!

Great news, the new Digg is finally open to the public. That means all of you can now see the stories I’m Digging throughout the week if you visit my profile or follow me: http://digg.com/daryapino. If you’re using the new Digg and are finding cool foodie/healthy/geeky stories, feel free to leave your username in the comments and I’ll check out what you’re up to.

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 a complete reading list join me on the new Digg or StumbleUpon. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

  • Do we need meat substitutes? <<Real meat is better for you than fake meat. If you’re vegetarian, there are many better options. (Food Politics)
  • Drinking Water Proven To Help Weight Loss <<This was a popular story online this week. But, for the record, drinking water didn’t help young people (under 50) lose weight. (Discovery News)
  • 8 Common Foods (That Are Poisonous) <<BS of the week. Media sensationalism doing what it does best. At least there’s enough humor in this one that I assume they know they’re full of it. (Houston Press)
  • A short period of gluttony can have a lasting effect <<Looks like occasionally “letting yourself go” is a really bad idea. So is occasionally dieting, btw. Your body is very adaptable and can absorb an occasional slip up (especially if you exercise), but don’t make it a regular habit. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Exercising Restores Sensitivity of Neurons That Make One Feel Full <<This is a really cool finding. Often overweight people have trouble re-adapting to normal eating portions if they’ve been overeating for many years, but this data suggests exercise may help restore normal appetite. Also helps you slim down and look awesome. Win! Win! (ScienceDaily)
  • Vit D linked to cancer, autoimmune disease genes <<Scientists discovered that vitamin D interacts with at least 200 different genes, including those linked to cancer and MS. This is a possible mechanism by which it offers benefits, and a reminder that it is really important. (Medline)
  • Twitter Streams of the Food Gods: Pretty Thin Soup <<I guess I’m not the only who noticed that the Twitter streams of food celebs totally suck. Ditto health celebs. My favorite people to follow tweet infrequently and are witty, insightful and almost always share useful and/or funny info. I try to hold myself to those standards. (Time)
  • Link Between Diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease Strengthened <<This is actually a lot cooler than it sounds. Normally studies do a poor job linking insulin resistance to Alzheimer’s because diagnosing the disease is tricky. To be 100% sure someone has AD you need to perform an autopsy and see plaques in the brain. Otherwise it could be a different kind of dementia. In this study the end measure is plaques. (Medline)
  • How berries can help your brain clean house <<Antioxidants called polyphenols apparently activate microglia (the forgotten nerve cells) in the brain. Cool! (The Globe and Mail)
  • FDA Approves Salmonella <<This is so right on it’s scary. And hilarious. I <3 The Onion.

What inspired you this week?

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Farmers Market Update: Nashville

by | Aug 22, 2010
Yellow Doll Watermelon

Yellow Doll Watermelon

I’m extremely excited to welcome the Spinach Tiger herself, Angela Roberts, who is providing a beautiful visual tour of the Franklin Farmers Market in Nashville.

Angela Roberts  is a faux artist turned food blogger.  As an artist, her food has to look good as well as taste good. She always starts with fresh, local ingredients, combining healthy and hearty, which inspired  the tag line, “food a woman will love and a man will marry her for.”

You can follow her on twitter @spinachtiger or become a fan of Spinach Tiger on Facebook.

Farmers Market Update: Nashville

by Angela Roberts

When Darya offered me an opportunity to talk about our own farmer’s market, I got excited for two reasons. Summer Tomato is one of my favorite blogs, and one of the reasons is her weekly highlight of my all time favorite farmer’s market.

Although I live in the Nashville area, I have visited the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market several times. Just like Darya is at the Ferry Plaza every weekend, I can be found every Saturday morning at the Franklin Farmer’s Market, and this might seem a bit odd, but I usually spend a good part of my morning there.

Cherry Tomatoes

Cherry Tomatoes

Music

Music

The Franklin Farmer’s Market, held in an outdoor pavilion at the Factory in Franklin, has a lot of heart and much to be proud of. We even have music.

Franklin is a small historic town, in cahoots with Nashville, and the market serves all of Williamson County. It’s special for several reasons:

It’s a local only market. All of the meat, herbs and produce come from middle Tennessee. The people selling you the food are the same people growing the food.

It’s dynamic, growing by leaps and bounds, adding new food artisans and farmers every year. In 9 seasons, they have grown from 9 to over 70 vendors.

Watermelon and Tomatoes

Watermelon and Tomatoes

Its open year round, and this says a lot about the commitment level of both the farmer’s and the local shoppers. I never knew about muscadine grapes, purple hull peas or yellow doll watermelon. Every week there is something exciting in produce that I’ve never seen before. But, at this time of year, I face the heat to get the season’s best tomatoes.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

Green Tomatoes

I love purple foods, not just the health benefits, but the beauty.

Muscadine Grapes

Muscadine Grapes

Eggplants

Eggplants

The Produce You Expect to Find: Green Beans, Corn, Squash

Corn

Corn

Green Beans

Green Beans

Thai Chilies

Thai Chilies

Purple Hull Beans, Baby Limas

Purple Hull Beans, Baby Limas

And, then there are the local food artisans, who seem to work 24 hours a day baking bread, making cheesecakes, jellies, jams, honey.

Local honey can help with seasonal allergies

Local honey can help with seasonal allergies

There is never a Saturday that we don’t buy one of Lucy’s Super Muffins. For those desiring a richer treat, Lucy is known all over town for her cheesecakes. She also sells savory homemade dips and spreads.

My most recent purchases were a chick pea gluten free and yukon potato/truffle oil ravioli.

You can buy excellent quality grass fed meat from local farms, such as West Wind Farms, Bear Creek Farm and Hatcher Family Dairy to name a few.

Hatcher Family Dairy

Hatcher Family Dairy

Alfresco Pasta

Alfresco Pasta

I know many of the vendors personally, as I engage with them every week. I have even visited a few of the farms. You might be surprised how open the vendors are to a visit.

Once you meet the goats that bring you Nobel Springs fabulous cheese, you’ll head to market every week to stock up. I am a fan of Hatcher cream and Nobel Springs Goat Farm. I’ve seen first hand how hard they work and the quality of their product.

Nobel Springs Goat Farm

Nobel Springs Goat Farm

Cooking from the Market

I left the market with a bushel of heirlooms, happily taking home the discarded tomatoes that couldn’t be sold. In two days, I made bruschetta, tomato marmalade and tomato panzanella topped with farm fresh eggs. I also made homemade pasta.

Fresh Pasta

Fresh Pasta

Fresh Eggs

Fresh Eggs

The farmers have had challenges this year with the May flood and then the severe heat. Yet they have managed to do their best and bring food made with care. There are many organic farmers and many farmers who aren’t certified organic but heed exceptional farming practices to bring you the best tasting, healthy food. I am proud to honor them here at Summer Tomato.

Purchases:

If you’d like to share your local farmers market with Summer Tomato readers, use the contact form to drop me an email.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Aug 20, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

Lots of fascinating food news this week. If 380 MILLION poison eggs doesn’t convince you to stop eating the industrial kind, I don’t know what will. There’s also some interesting new data on red meat and heart disease, as well as an inspiring story of doctors prescribing farmers market vegetables.

Another quick note: I tweeted yesterday about this cool farmers market backpack (yes I want one) and Betabrand wrote back saying my readers get $15 off anything on the site. Pretty awesome. Use the code: tomato

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 a complete reading list join me on the new Digg or StumbleUpon. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

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Farmers Market Update: iPhone 4 FTW!

by | Aug 15, 2010
Summer Squash

Summer Squash

It was a beautiful day today in San Francisco. I’m feeling much better and was super excited to hit up the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market and snap some photos.

Apparently though, I’m still not quite in top form. When I tried to take a picture of these beautiful grapes, my camera smugly informed me that it did not contain its memory card. PhotoFAIL. Luckily, I had my trusty iPhone 4.

Lovely Grapes

Lovely Grapes

I was curious how the new iPhone would perform at the farmers market, and today it had it’s chance to prove itself. I still think I prefer my regular Canon SD900, but overall I was pretty impressed with my pocket phone. What do you think?

Not too much has changed at the market from last week. The late summer produce is beautiful, especially the eggplants, peppers, peaches and plums.

French Prunes

French Prunes

Rosa Bianca Eggplants

Rosa Bianca Eggplants

The beets have been marvelous (and impressive!), as are the summer squash.

Magda Cousa Squash

Magda Cousa Squash

Impressive Beetroot

Impressive Beetroot

I’m happy to see green bean season is starting to take off. We are experimenting with pickling some beans this weekend. Recipe on its way.

Pickled Blue Lake Beans

Pickled Blue Lake Beans

Don’t forget the greens and onions either, they are all amazing this time of year.

Spanish Onions

Spanish Onions

Escarole

Escarole

Fresh chamomile was nice to find today as well.

Seedless Grapes

Seedless Grapes

Chamomile

Chamomile

Today’s purchases:

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For The Love Of Food

by | Aug 13, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

This week I found an exceptional number of articles supporting the value of minimally processed foods (shhh, even the one that tried to argue the opposite). Also some useful tips on juicing and weight lifting (not together, of course).

I’m also happy to tell you that the print buttons are working again :)

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 a complete reading list join me on the new Digg or StumbleUpon. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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Healthy Vegetable Sources of Protein and Iron

by | Aug 9, 2010
Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Today’s post is written by a long-time Summer Tomato reader, Matthew Shook. Matt refers to himself as an herbivore, rather than a vegetarian, which I love. To me the term herbivore implies an intent to live from vegetables instead of simply consuming them in an exclusive way.

Although the term omnivore better describes my own eating habits, I do think plants are the cornerstone of a healthy diet. Moreover, although I eat animals I prefer to rely on plants as my primary sources of protein and iron. My reasons include health, ecology and economy.

Those of you who knew me back in the day know how very weird this is. I always considered myself a carnivore through and through, and the thought of a meal based entirely on plants seemed borderline insane. Now for me it is more normal than abnormal.

For one thing, relying on plants makes cooking and shopping a lot easier. It’s also cheaper and, as I’ve come to learn, just as tasty.

Since I have learned more about food and health I have come to appreciate that vegetarian sources of protein are not simply a substitute for meat (how could beans replace steak?), but are an essential part of a healthy diet in their own right.

Whether vegetarian or not, I encourage you to incorporate healthy plant sources of protein and iron into your healthstyle.

For this I turn you over to Matt, our resident expert on herbivory. For more wonderful vegetarian recipes visit his blog Recipes for Disaster.

Healthy Sources of Protein and Iron From Vegetables

by Matthew Shook

When I became an herbivore six years ago I had a very elementary understanding of proper nutrition. Becoming an herbivore was very simple for me–I just stopped eating animals. I soon discovered that becoming a healthy and well-nourished herbivore was a far more complex endeavor.

New herbivores often face three obstacles at the beginning of their diet transition. One is a self-perceived lack of acceptable food options and diversity. The cereal, rice, beans and pasta get old real quick. This is why herbivores often expand their interests to ethnic and unfamiliar foods.

The second obstacle, unbeknownst to many herbivores, is a lack of high-quality protein and highly-absorbable iron.

A third obstacle during my transition was trying to convince my friends, family and loved ones that becoming vegetarian can be a healthy decision. My parents swore that if I didn’t eat meat I would wither away and die within one year’s time. In their eyes, it’s a miracle I’m still alive.

The following is a review of some of the best options for maintaining a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet, but is also useful for health-conscious omnivores.

Protein

Most North Americans get more than enough protein in their diet (some even argue they consume too much protein). The problem, especially for herbivores, is that not all protein-rich foods are created equal.

Enter the “complete” protein.

A complete protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein), those that our bodies cannot produce themselves. So really, this should be a discussion of our need for amino acids, not necessarily protein.

Meat, fish, and dairy products are sources of high-quality protein, but herbivores need to look elsewhere for their fill of essential amino acids. (Sidenote: Some vegetarians consume dairy products, but relying on dairy as the foundation of your diet is, in my opinion, a very unhealthy way to go.)

This first vegetarian protein source is what I call “an herbivore’s best friend.”

Quinoa, while technically a seed, is often referred to as a “supergrain” from South America. It contains complete protein and is one of only two sources (the other is soybean) that are not animal-based. I have tried white, red, and black quinoa and find them all to be delicious when properly prepared. The red and black varieties tend to be a little “crunchier” than the white. 

Unlike many foods, quinoa is just as nutritious cooked as it is when sprouted and consumed.

(Here is the Summer Tomato recipe for Mexican-style quinoa salad.)

Amaranth, while not a complete protein, contains a large percentage of essential amino acids and is an outstanding source of plant-based protein. It is a “pseudograin” like quinoa, and can be used in dishes such as stir-fries, soups or just as a side dish to compliment seasoned vegetables. It can also be made into a pudding or be ground up into flour.

There are a wide variety of legumes (aka beans) capable of fulfilling an herbivore’s protein and palate requirements. Legumes are generally very low in the essential amino acid methionine, and therefore pair well with grains/pseudograins which fulfill this gap. Black beans, lentils, and chickpeas are three of the most nutritious and flavorful legumes.

This discussion would be incomplete without mentioning the most popular and highly debated legume: soybean. Soybeans have the highest amount of plant-based protein, by weight, of any other food. (Hemp seed and lentils are second and third respectively.) 

Soy can be a bit of a touchy subject as many health-minded individuals disagree about the long-term benefits of introducing the many forms of soy into your diet. Soy can be consumed as whole soybeans, edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, textured soy protein, etc.  Also controversial is the genetic modification of the typical American soybean (thank you, Monsanto).

Tofu and tempeh are concentrated forms of soybean, and thus have high levels of protein. Typically unprocessed foods hold more nutritional value than their processed counterparts, but one can argue that tempeh (a fermented form of soybean) is the healthiest form of soy. The argument is that unfermented soy products like tofu contain “anti-nutrients” (phytates, enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens), which can cause digestive problems and nutrient deficiencies.

I limit my soy intake to very moderate amounts of tempeh and utilize it as a complement to well-balanced meals.

This last one should come as no surprise to Summer Tomato readers. While not an option for vegans, eggs can provide a great deal of nutrition to a vegetarian diet. Eggs contain all of the essential amino acids and are particularly beneficial to herbivores as a source of active (highly-absorbable) vitamin B-12, which is only found in significant portions in animal-based food.

What are your favorite vegetarian sources of protein?

Iron

Iron is essential to any healthy diet, herbivore or otherwise. Iron is a vital part of hemoglobin in blood, and a failure to absorb an adequate amount can lead to iron deficiency anemia. 

There is a big difference between consuming and absorbing an adequate amount of iron.

Two types of iron exist in the human body: heme iron and non-heme iron.  Heme iron can only be obtained from animal sources such as cow, chicken and fish. These animal sources contain about 40% heme iron.  The remaining 60% of animal-based sources, and 100% of plant-base sources, are comprised of non-heme iron. 

The semi-bad news for herbivores is that heme iron is well-absorbed and non-heme iron is less well-absorbed. The good news is there are other foods you can eat with your meal that enhance the absorption of non-heme iron sources. Non-heme iron enhancers include fruits high in vitamin C, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and white wine.

Spinach is one of best sources of iron available for herbivores, especially when cooked. I consume spinach regularly both raw and cooked, and find it is an excellent addition to numerous recipes including soups, salads, stir-fries and smoothies. 

I have read that spinach is an iron inhibitor (reduces the absorption of iron), but when paired with iron enhancers the essential element is readily absorbable.

Swiss chard, turnip greens, and bok choy have decent but not spectacular amounts of iron.

There are a few legumes that are excellent sources of iron. Lentils, lima beans, kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and soybeans are the best sources in the legume family.  The wide range of flavor from these legumes enables herbivores to get more than enough iron from a variety of cuisines.

(For more nutrition information on lentils and the recipe for the dish pictured above read the Summer Tomato recipe for collards, carrots and French green lentils.)

Chickpea hummus, black bean burritos, dahl (lentil) soup and lima or soybean stir-fry are fantastic recipe ideas using iron-rich legumes. If you choose soybeans, be sure to add some iron enhancers to the meal since they are considered iron inhibitors as well.

Quinoa and amaranth, the two psuedograins mentioned for their high protein content, are also good vegetarian sources of iron. I try to maintain a varied diet by frequently switching up the different greens, legumes and (pseudo)grains in my meals.  I’ve included one of my favorite recipes that features many of these protein and iron-rich ingredients.

Black Bean and Quinoa Burrito

What are your favorite vegetarian sources of iron?  Are you concerned about iron inhibitors in your diet? Are you or someone you know ever been chronically anemic?

Originally published August 19, 2009

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Farmers Market Update: Pneumonia

by | Aug 8, 2010
Bicolor Corn

Bicolor Corn

You’re probably sick of hearing about how sick I am. Trust me, so am I.

On Tuesday I was diagnosed with pneumonia. Fortunately antibiotics are a miracle and I’m definitely getting better. But I still would have stayed home from the farmers market this weekend to rest up if the wonderful lady that was scheduled to cover the Farmers Market Update this week hadn’t come down with strep throat. Seriously, what’s up with all the summer illness?!

Flavor Grenade Pluots

Flavor Grenade Pluots

Flavor King Pluots

Flavor King Pluots

Though my energy was low, a couple things were notable from the market this week. We are definitely seeing the transition into late summer. The flavor king pluots at Frog Hollow Farm have arrived. These are magical fruits. If you’re in SF you absolutely must find a way to try one in the next few weeks. I promise you won’t regret it.

We are also in the midst of melon season. I’ve only tried a few, but so far they are sweet and flavorful. Next weekend I’m getting a watermelon for sure.

White & Yellow Nectarines

White & Yellow Nectarines

Summer Melons

Summer Melons

I was also surprised to see grapes appearing already. Though I love grapes, this makes me kind of sad. Grapes remind me of fall, and it has been so cold this summer in SF the idea of skipping the rest of the season is heartbreaking. Fingers crossed for a warm September.

Gravenstein Apples

Gravenstein Apples

First Grapes

First Grapes

Seeing these apples would have made me sad as well, but I recently learned (thanks Pim!) that Gravenstein apples are summer apples. I don’t bake pies, but apparently they work nicely for baking.

I hope the rest of you are healthy and happy, and having a wonderful weekend.

Today’s purchases:

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For The Love Of Food

by | Aug 6, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

New evidence that the Atkins diet may be depriving people of nutrients? You bet! There were also a few interesting articles this week about food ideology and the antagonistic tone that frequently comes up in discussions about health, food safety and politics. And Francis Lam’s greatest tomato pasta on earth article totally blew my mind (in a good way).

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 a complete reading list join me on the new Digg or StumbleUpon. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Links of the week

  • Is Your Diet Depriving You of Nutrients? <<A new study suggests that Atkins dieters may be lacking in nutrients that are usually found in starchy foods. Dieters on the Zone diet (which is more balanced) fared the best, nutrient wise. (Low Carb Diets Blog)
  • Does high-fructose corn syrup cause cancer? <<Does it matter? Great analysis about how the facts are often beside the point when food and health get discussed in the media. (Salon)
  • “Can’t we all just get along” – It does not seem so. <<BS of the week. Along the same lines as the previous article, Bill Marler brings up the antagonistic tone that often comes up in public food dialogue, which is neither pleasant nor productive. And that sucks. Intelligent discussions don’t seem to be forthcoming these days. That’s why I’m so grateful for the wonderful conversations we have here at Summer Tomato. (Marler Blog)
  • A Dozen Eggs for $8? Michael Pollan Explains the Math of Buying Local <<Great interview with Michael Pollan about why Bay Area residents have embraced his eating philosophy. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Chili Peppers May Come With Blood Pressure Benefits <<Cartoons with red faces and exploding heads may give you the wrong idea. It appears chili peppers actually lower blood pressure in the long term. (ScienceDaily)
  • Is MSG Unhealthy? <<People sometimes ask why I don’t talk about MSG more on this blog. The truth is that the data doesn’t condemn it as much as people seem to believe. I don’t reject any food without strong science to back it up. Dr. Weil concurs. (Dr. Weil’s blog)
  • For blood pressure, can you be fit but fat? <<New research suggests body weight is a risk factor for high blood pressure independent of physical fitness levels. Best to keep both under control. (Medline)
  • Why did Whole Foods tart up my organic peanut butter? <<I agree with Tom Philpott on this one, but I still think it’s funny to get so riled up over “peanut butter.” (Grist)
  • Chioggia beets and farro salad <<Psssst. I shared one of my favorite recipe outlines over at my personal blog this week. It is super easy, and there are a zillion possible variations you can do. Beets not required. (daryapino)
  • The greatest five-minute tomato pasta on earth <<I almost choked to death when I read this, because Francis Lam had almost the exact same tomato experience I had. Then he turned it into a recipe. (Salon)

What inspired you this week?

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How Healthy Is Garlic?

by | Aug 4, 2010
Garlic

Garlic

People often say that garlic has medicinal properties. Some claim it lowers blood pressure, others swear it helps cholesterol and reduces clotting, and some even think it protects against cancer. I’ve also heard that garlic is “healthier” 10-15 minutes after it has been crushed or minced. Is any of this true?

The Science of Single Foods

As someone who regularly reads the scientific literature on the health benefits of food I can assure you that this is not an easy question to answer. The problem is that the effect of any single food on human health is likely to be small at best, and small effects are very difficult to detect with reliability. Studies must be incredibly well-designed to contribute anything of value to our understanding of how a food works in the human body. Also, many studies must be taken together in context for the data to be evaluated properly.

I have been researching this garlic question on and off for months and feel only slightly more confident today than I did when I started. To summarize, there are a good number of studies addressing the health value of garlic, but very very few of them are well-designed and published in reputable journals. The problem with having a large number of poor-quality studies is that results are often conflicting and difficult to interpret. Thus, when another scientist comes in to do a meta-analysis (pooling data from many studies and re-analyzing it for stronger statistics) the findings are usually inconclusive.

However, inconclusive findings do not enable me (or anyone) to say there is no benefit. What I can say is that more research is needed and if there is a benefit it is likely to be small. (How unsatisfying is that?!). But personally I would still recommend eating garlic for health. Why?

Small Benefits Are Important

Although we cannot say exactly why garlic is good for you, it is almost certainly not bad for you. Moreover, although it is difficult to attribute a particular health benefit to a single food, we do know that people who eat the most vegetables tend to be healthier than people who fewer.

Many nutrition scientists are beginning to suspect that the benefit of foods like garlic are primarily relevant in the context of a whole diet and cannot be evaluated independently. This means that it is less important that the individual studies I mentioned earlier are inconclusive, because they are likely not sensitive enough to evaluate the complex interactions of whole foods and food combinations on human physiology.

The Best Reason To Eat Garlic

The most important thing you can do for your health is eat a diverse diet of natural, unprocessed foods. Garlic is an amazing ingredient that imparts a unique and wonderful taste to the food it is cooked with. If you like garlic and it encourages you to eat your vegetables, then it’s good for you.

If it makes you feel slightly better knowing that it may help your heart or reduce inflammation, that’s awesome but less important.

What About The Crush?

If you do hope garlic can add to your health, is there any benefit in crushing it early? Probably.

Scientists have long suspected that the active ingredient in garlic is a substance called allicin. A recent study from Queen’s University showed that it is actually a decomposition product of allicin that has the most potent antioxidant activity.

Interestingly, allicin is created from an enzyme called alliinase that is not released from plant cells until they are damaged. Alliinase is what gives garlic (and onions) their strong odor and is thought to be a self-defense mechanism for these plants. When garlic is crushed, alliinase becomes active and begins creating allicin. As allicin is created and breaks down, the antioxidant potential of garlic is dramatically increased. Optimal antioxidant levels are created about 10 minutes after garlic is crushed.

It has not yet been shown that this increased antioxidant activity is a benefit to humans, but the principle is compelling enough to try to remember to crush your garlic a little early. If you are anything like me though, this feat is almost impossible. Apparently garlic hasn’t done that much for my memory.

What are your favorite reasons to eat garlic?

Originally published March 27, 2009.

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