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Can You Live Longer By Cutting Calories?

by | Mar 30, 2011

Photo by Werwin15

Photo by Werwin15

The science of aging is among the most dynamic and provocative in modern biology. Over the past two decades we have seen a virtual explosion in research investigating the molecular and behavioral systems that control the aging process. But the more researchers uncover about the science of aging, the more questions emerge.

Dietary restriction has long been considered the most potent regulator of aging. Restricting food intake by any means induces a series of metabolic changes in organisms from yeast to primates that serve to extend life. Studies are currently underway to investigate the ability of dietary restriction to extend life in humans.

Several biological changes are known to occur upon the onset of dietary restriction including a decline in reproductive ability, increased stress resistance and a slowdown of some metabolic processes.

Insulin signaling was among the first molecular pathways to be identified in the regulation of aging, and offered a direct tie between diet and the aging process.  In 1998 UCSF scientist Cynthia Kenyon showed that removing an insulin receptor gene (daf-2) in worms could double their lifespan. Her lab later showed that removing another insulin signaling gene (daf-16) could extend life even longer. I spoke to Kenyon about the relationship between diet and aging for this article.

Blocking insulin signaling in these worms did not just prevent the worms from dying and allow them to age longer. Instead the aging process actually slows so that older worms continue to behave like young worms. Also, as these experiments were repeated in different animals, it was shown that lowering insulin signaling also helps protect animals from stress and diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Insulin is released as a direct response to glucose in the blood. This means that any time you eat a meal with carbohydrates, you are increasing your insulin signaling and likely accelerating aging. But this does not mean that you will live forever if you stop eating carbohydrates.

Interestingly, protein metabolism also contributes to accelerated aging, but through a different mechanism. Even more intriguing is that restricting protein increases lifespan to a greater extent than restricting sugar.

So is it simply calories that promote aging?

Probably not. For one thing, the effect of a calorie from protein is greater than a calorie from carbohydrate, making it unlikely that a calorie is the basic unit of impact. Second, there is evidence that calories are not required to accelerate aging.

Recent studies have shown that the mere act of smelling food can reduce lifespan. The mechanism for this effect is still unknown, but seems to be tied to respiration.

According to Kenyon it is clear that “sensory perception influences lifespan,” at least in worms and flies.

Thus it is likely that aging is controlled by the interaction of several pathways, including metabolism, respiration and stress. Importantly, however, lifespan seems to be dependent on a handful of specific pathways rather than global changes in cellular function or breakdown. The idea that aging is an inevitable function of time must be put aside given the evidence that it is controlled at a genetic and environmental level.

This makes sense when you think about it. Different organisms exhibit vastly different lifespans and rates of aging that are too great to be explained by some kind of universal cellular breakdown. A more parsimonious hypothesis is that organisms differ in specific genetic factors that, combined with environmental influences, regulate lifespan.

So how should we mortal humans react to these findings?

The genes linking diet and aging are highly conserved through evolution, indicating that there is a great chance human aging is sensitive to diet. Indeed, insulin-related genes have been found to be important in long-lived human populations. This suggests that the pathways discovered in worms and other organisms have similar functions in humans.

What is not clear is how much influence diet has on lifespan and to what extent we are able to manipulate it. It is already known that abnormal insulin activity in humans is linked to higher disease rates, especially “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cancer. And these diseases are clearly associated with diets rich in processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates.

The effect of protein consumption on lifespan in humans has yet to be investigated. Envisioning an experiment that would test the influence of smelling food on human aging is difficult to even imagine.

Although direct evidence is not available, there is good reason to suspect that a diet with low glycemic load may extend human lifespan. In November 2009, Kenyon’s lab reported that adding glucose to a worm’s normal diet shortens lifespan, but has no effect on the long-lived worms that lack insulin signaling genes daf-2 and daf-16. This discovery prompted Kenyon herself to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet.

Despite this there is still not sufficient evidence to recommend a calorie restricted diet for humans to extend life, largely because optimal nutrition levels for a given individual are unknown. However, most people would benefit vastly by eliminating processed foods and refined carbohydrates from their diets as much as possible.

Focusing on fresh, whole foods, enjoying an occasional glass of wine, avoiding smoking and getting regular exercise can add 14 years to the life of an average person. Maintain a healthy weight as well and your outlook gets even better.

Would you change your diet to be healthier and live longer?

Originally published February 3, 2010.

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How To Lose Weight, Meditate Like a Monk and Hone Your Super Powers: The Magic of Lucid Dreaming

by | Mar 28, 2011
lucid dreaming

Photo by eschipul

Over the past year I’ve become interested in mindfulness as a weight loss tool. In my experience, mindless eating is one of the biggest problems with food culture in the US.

When you eat as a reaction to environmental cues (rather than internal cues) you’re more likely to stick your hand into the chip bowl, eat so fast your blood sugar spikes like a rocket and gorge yourself on enough food to feed a small village.

Mindful eating can help you slow down, make better choices and stop eating when you’re no longer hungry. But practicing mindfulness isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Recently I asked friend and renowned life hacker Tim Ferriss if he had any thoughts or advice on meditation (my attempts have been frustrating at best). To my surprise his reply was, “if you want to develop mindfulness I recommend experimenting with lucid dreaming.”


I was intrigued, so when George Gecewicz asked me if I was interested in a guest post about lucid dreaming and mindfulness, I was eager to accept.

George is a young guy in New York’s Capital Region who likes to design websites and has been lucid dreaming for about a year. To see more about George’s projects visit

For more about lucid dreaming from Tim Ferriss, check out Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide.

How To Lose Weight, Mediate Like a Monk and Hone Your Super Powers: The Magic of Lucid Dreaming

by George Gecewicz

If you’re in the middle of a dream and suddenly realize you’re dreaming, you have become lucid. While always fun, exciting, trippy, weird, sexy, and/or scary, there’s more to be gained from learning to lucid dream than just the exhilaration of flying around and doing whatever you want.

Lucid dreaming is a form of mindfulness, and the awareness you gain from practicing it can be applied to improve your daily life. For example, eating mindfully can be one of the most effective ways to make better food choices and control portions. It can also bring a more complete sense of well-being, allowing you to get the most out of experiences and enjoy elements of your life that you may otherwise take for granted. Tibetan Buddhists even use lucid dreaming as a form of meditation to explore their inner selves.

Learning to lucid dream is not difficult and you can get started today.

How to Lucid Dream

1. Keep a dream journal

As soon as you wake up, ask yourself what you were dreaming about and write it down. Try to focus on the details. Close your eyes and move as little as possible. As things start coming back to you, write them in your journal, record them into your phone, or draw pictures. You will be going over your recorded dreams later, so use whichever method brings back the most vivid memories and images for you.

2. Keep a “reality sign” and do reality checks

Keep some type of constant text or number structure with you at all times. This can be a Post-It note with some words or number on it, a math formula on your cell phone, anything that you have to read. My personal favorite is an old, dead watch, with the hour hand and minute hand stuck in the same spot.

Check this reality sign every two hours or so, and get used to observing that the text, numbers, minute hands, etc. are in the same spot. Eventually you will learn to check your reality sign in the dream world, and details like written words and the hands of a dead watch will not be constant. For example, let’s say you have a piece of paper with the word “TOMATO” on it. If you check it, and the letters are now arranged to spell “OOMATT”, you’re in a dream.

3. Wake up, then go back to sleep

If you have to get up at 8:00am set an alarm to wake you up 2-3 hours earlier, like 5:30am. Wake up with your early alarm, stay awake for at least 10 minutes, and then go back to sleep. Go over your dream journal in this period and try to focus on the images of these dreams. Check your reality sign once or twice and doze off. The next two or so hours will be ripe for lucid dreaming, and can often increase the occurrence of lucid dreams dramatically.

Work on this and be patient. It took me more than three weeks of recording dreams, doing reality checks, and playing around with short periods of wakefulness before I finally went fully lucid. Try and remember to stay calm if you happen to realize you’re dreaming. The first two times I went lucid, I was so surprised and excited that I woke myself up.

Once you do begin to lucid dream, you can start using your dream awareness to enhance your waking awareness. Here are some basic tips to get you started.

Expand Your Mindfulness

1. Use your new imagination

It’s still largely speculative if there are legitimate health benefits of lucid dreaming, but I can say from personal experience and talking with fellow dreamers that your ability to project images in your brain, focus on details, and be intensely aware of minutiae do improve. This comes from the above steps alone, even if you never go lucid.

For example, projecting the imagery of your dreams before bed and in periods of wakefulness is useful because it teaches you how to focus on one sense. Use this same intensity when you examine tastes, sights, sounds, feelings, and other sensations in the real world to maximize mindfulness. In this way, lucid dreaming does to your ability to focus what eating well does to your health.

2. Ween off your reality signs

Reality signs are important to get your dream skills off the ground, but view them sort of like training wheels. Eventually, as you become more aware of your subconscious reality, you’ll be able to recognize the subtle differences in general between the waking world and your dream world.

Focusing on these differences and relying less on your dream signs is one of the best ways to practice mindfulness. You’ll really start to taste your food, look at the sky, focus on your physical body, and be aware of your thoughts much more intensely, and you’ll notice their awesomeness compared to the weak sensations of the dream world. You’ll know you’re getting good when you look at tree branches a few hundred yards away and use those as your reality signs, not text written on paper. It’s pretty cool.

3. Get inspiration

Look to media, new experiences, art, and other resources to get inspiration for what you do in your lucid dreams. Basically, try gathering “material” that you want to recreate in a dream.

Let’s say you’re doing something really awesome: skydiving, spending time with your significant other, eating a delicious meal, reading a really clever book, etc. Focusing intensely on what’s going on will make recalling these sensations a breeze, which creates a greater state of mindfulness. This applies to anything you might want to “relive” and allows you to get the most out of any enjoyable experience.

Lucid dreaming is incredibly powerful. It’s also free, easy, safe, educational, and really fun. Be patient, stick to it, and good luck!

I’ll be down in the comments answering any questions you might have.

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Farmers Market Update: Osaka, Japan

by | Mar 27, 2011
Osaka Market Customer Line

Osaka Market Customer Line

Huge thanks again to Joan Bailey for sharing another Japanese farmers market with us, this time from Osaka. (The first was Tokyo). I absolutely love Joan’s narrative descriptions of the Japanese markets and all the unique offerings, it makes me hunger to do more traveling.

I also asked Joan for a brief update on the situation in Tokyo, where she lives. You can read more about the what is happening there at the bottom of her post.

Joan lives, farms and gardens in Tokyo. Follow her from seed to harvest to market at Popcorn Homestead and Everyday Gardens as well as Twitter.

Farmers Market Update: Odona Farmer’s Market in Osaka

by Joan Bailey

Our final fling in Osaka before returning to Tokyo was a trip to the Odona Farmer’s Market. I’d missed it on a visit to the city in early January, and since we’d self-evacuated there after the March 11th earthquake it seemed as good a time as any to do a bit of exploring. (Nothing like a farmer’s market to scare off the aftershock-radiation blues, I say.)

Japan’s third largest city, Osaka lies about 320 miles south of Tokyo. A charming city with slightly rougher edges than its sleek northern cousin (think Chicago versus New York), it offers the market-goer a veritable cornucopia of shopping locations year-round.

While not the largest in the city, the Odona Market was certainly one of the busiest I’ve seen in Osaka so far. Named for the posh department store whose front sidewalk it fills, market vendors benefit from being on a direct path to Yodoyabashi Station in a major business-shopping-touristy area. Even as we arrived shortly after the market opened a number of serious shoppers were already on the scene and one stall had already sold out of their supply of dried beans.

Seafood Stall

Seafood Stall

Bundled up against a brisk March wind that whipped along the high-rise lined street, shoppers and vendors alike surveyed a scene of fantastic winter bounty. Citrus, a wide assortment of winter greens and vegetables mingled with some early spring favorites like nanohana (a signature spring green) and strawberries, heaps of onions, beautiful brown eggs, white and brown rice, homemade mochi, miso, tsukemono (pickles), cakes, jam, tea, assorted mushrooms, and even bubbling styrofoam crates of fresh (a.k.a. living) seafood were on offer.

Throwing myself into the fray of bicycling housewives, cane-toting grandmothers bent at the waist, black-suited office workers, and young mothers towing uniformed school children, I started shopping.

Narakiyorisa Farmers

Narakiyorisa Farmers

Starting at the end farthest from the station, I first visited Narakiyorisa Farms from nearby Minami Awajishi. Like most vendors this afternoon, three people worked the stall. Two stood behind to answer questions and handle sales while a third stood out front welcoming customers, answering questions, and monitoring restocking needs. While their onions, broccoli, and nanohana tempted, it was the big bag of homemade mochi that had me sidling up for a closer look.



Mochi, made from pounded rice, can be eaten savory or sweet, grilled or plunked in a bowl of hot miso. Really, the possibilities are endless, and while the texture puts some folks off (a bit gooey and chewy) it is one of my favorite things ever. The varieties are nearly endless, as are the regional variations in flavor, shape and style, and I never pass up an opportunity to purchase it at market. In hindsight, I wish I’d also grabbed some of their dried onion soup. Made with their own onions and a selection of herbs and spices, it did sound like a perfect treat for a chilly spring evening. Instead, I snapped up a bag of their pickled daikon for our journey home. I know what I’ll buy next time!

Just down the line from Narakiyorisa I stopped at a table overflowing with vegetable goodness. Sourced from a number of area farms I was greeted by tight round heads of red cabbage, brilliant white daikon, celery stalks, and bright early strawberries; however, it was Kaizukashi Sobura’s shiitake mushrooms that stole the show. Raised on the outskirts of the city, my mouth watered at the site of those fat little fellows. Before I knew it they were in my bag as the perfect souvenir – light as well as tasty – to carry home.



Since Osaka hosts a number of markets (at least five that I know of) spread throughout the week at varying locations, it’s perhaps no surprise that I ran into two growers I met during my January roamings. Numa-san and her bottles of homemade yuzu, tomato, and orange juices were easy to spot. Last time I had purchased Shishiyuzu (a softball sized yuzu) for marmalade, and this time I gave serious thought to the large bags of yuzu seeds for sale. Showing me the sample jar of them soaking in alcohol (the rubbing, not drinking variety), she recommended the mixture as a refreshing and cleansing spray for face or hands. (A single yuzu holds a huge number of seeds, so discovering a use for all of them would take some of the tedium out of the marmalade process.) I opted instead for her homemade daifuku mochi. After tasting a sample of her komugi (mugwort) mochi with perfectly sweetened anko (sweet adzuki bean paste) centers, I was helpless.

Yuzu Seeds

Yuzu Seeds

Koroku and Nakama Farms split their time between a Saturday market on one of the river walks and the Odona Market. Located in Izumi and Nara (one of Japan’s ancient capital cities and home to some of the most spectacular architecture in the country) respectively, the real attraction of their stall are their heirloom vegetables. (Heirlooms can be hard to find in Japan, even at farmer’s markets. Like the US, most people only know one kind of tomato, soy bean, or squash, despite a long and deep tradition of regional varieties.)

Two kinds of renkon (lotus root), some of the first sansai (mountain vegetables) I’d seen this year, joined a mix of greens. Sensuji, a hardier looking version of mizuna that resembles kale a bit in texture and taste, and Yamatomanna, an older and mixed version of nanohana (rape), had me striking up a conversation in my bad Japanese in short order. Both can be quickly steamed and tossed with soy sauce and sugar like shingiku or thrown in traditional winter dishes like nabe (a dream of a boiled dinner) for a bit of green crunch in a season when it is most desired.

Remembering that we were traveling that evening, I chose instead a bag of hasaku or, as the farmer called them, Japanese grapefruit. Sour with a spark of sweetness, they nearly glowed in their newspaper lined crate at the front of the stall, and they looked like a cheerful gift to bring back to somewhat stressful Tokyo.* It would travel well, and the season for citrus will begin to come to a close shortly. It seemed only prudent to make the most of the opportunity.



As the sun began setting and lights flickered on at the stalls, I stopped at Yamato-Shokuhin’s stall to sample their sakezuke. Pieces of eggplant, cucumber, ginger, and daikon are set in sake lees (the dregs of the sake making process) for a period of time, which preserves and flavor them. It’s a fermentation/pickling process similar to what we do with sauerkraut or even quick refrigerator pickles. Usually served in tiny bowls amongst a myriad of other tiny bowls full of delightful and surprising flavors, sakezuke is just one part of a pickle tradition that varies from region to region, town to town. This little flavor of Osaka would come to Tokyo, but this time just for us.

What I bought:

  • Daifuku Mochi from Numa-san
  • Hasaku from Kiroku Farm
  • Regular mochi and pickled daikon from Narakiyoisa Farm
  • Shiitake mushrooms from Kaizukashi Sobura
  • Ginger and cucumber sakezuke from Yamato-Shokuhin

We’ve since returned to a calmer Tokyo. The aftershocks are gradually lessening, although up north in the Tohoku region where the damage is worst, they continue. Our concerns about radiation and earthquakes, while valid, seem tiny in comparison to what is happening there. Supplies to the evacuation shelters continue to be a challenge, although organizations like Second Harvest work to meet it and care for survivors. And while there are also valid worries about radiation contaminated vegetables from Ibaraki, Fukushima, and Chiba prefectures, it perhaps pays more to worry about the farmers themselves. The majority of them are small growers who willingly destroyed valuable spring crops to protect themselves and those they feed. Now, more than ever, it pays – for the farmer as well as the consumer – to buy vegetables from local growers at small stands or at farmer’s markets.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 25, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

The internet was overflowing with nutrition BS this week. It’s so often the same issue, people mistaking one special case for general health and safety. But the body is complicated and there is always more to consider. I also found some great articles defending salt and olive oil, and a brilliant demonstration of why portions matter.

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 list of my favorite stories check out my links on Digg. 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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Vote for Summer Tomato Live Episode #5

by | Mar 25, 2011

It’s time to choose our next topic for Summer Tomato Live. Episode #5 is scheduled for Monday, April 11, at 6:30pm PST. Please vote for the topic you’d like me to cover.
[poll id=”10″]

Episode #4 is scheduled for next Tuesday, March 29, at 6:30pm PST, and we’ll be discussing healthy vegetarian and vegan diets. To participate live, sign up for the premium newsletter Tomato Slice.

For more information on the newsletter and live show, please read this.

Your regularly scheduled link love post will be up shortly


Summer Tomato Live – Episode #3 – Habit Forming & Habit Breaking [video]

by | Mar 24, 2011

Thanks to everyone who participated in episode 3. We finally got Comcast to come out and fix our internet, so it should be smooth sailing from now on. As always, show notes are below.

March 17, 6pm | Live participation is only available to subscribers of the newsletter Tomato Slice. You can sign up at any time, even during the show, and the password for participation will be emailed to you immediately.

Click here to sign up and get the password

Read this for more information on the show and newsletter

Today I’ll be discussing Habit forming & habit breaking, particularly as it relates to food and health. To watch live and join the discussion click the red “Join event” button, login with Twitter or your Vokle account, and enter the password when prompted.

I encourage you to call in with video questions, particularly if your question is nuanced and may involve a back and forth discussion. Please use headphones to call in however, or the feedback from the show is unbearable.

The show will be recorded and released to the public next week. Show notes are below.

Recommended reading:

Healthy habits:

Mindful eating:


Goals & inspiration:

Please join us!

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How I Lost 60 Pounds In 1 Year With A New Healthstyle

by | Mar 23, 2011
Patrick in Sept - 20 lbs ago

Patrick in Sept 2010 (20 lbs ago)

I recently learned about Patrick from a comment he left here at Summer Tomato. I was astounded by his tremendous weight loss success and touched by his story of how he got there.

Patrick describes himself as “just a regular guy that works a corporate job who decided to educate himself with the internet and use the knowledge to upgrade my healthstyle.”

I hope he inspires you as much as he’s inspired me.

P.S. Because of Patrick I’m now doing interval training again, and I’ve noticed a difference in less than a week. w00t!

How I Lost 60 Pounds In 1 Year With A New Healthstyle

by Patrick Birke

My journey really began two years ago with the birth of my daughter. She was born in March, and the following summer my wife and I bought out a friend’s CSA (community supported agriculture) summer share who was moving out of the neighborhood. With ¾ of the summer season left, we received more vegetables than we knew what to do with.

We began making our own baby food for our infant daughter. Steaming fresh veggies, pureeing them and freezing it into ice cube trays was the perfect way to feed her over the next year without the need to ever buy store bought baby food. By the time the season was over we were hooked on the CSA. The three of us even went to visit the farm for their annual fall harvest celebration, we picked our own pumpkins and saw where all of our yummy veggies were grown.

This was the first step to the new me. I was introduced to fresh vegetables that I would normally pass right by at the grocery store (things I didn’t even know they had, but have now noticed) such as kale, swiss chard, fennel, leeks, rutabaga, turnips, squash, brussels sprouts, rhubarb, just to name a few.

That fall we ran out of our CSA stock but we did purchase a half cow and half pig from a local farmer to get us through the long Minnesota winter.

Local grass-fed beef is great, but I quickly learned that it cannot be the only thing in my diet.

By spring 2010, I was up to 200 pounds. We signed up again for the CSA summer share but I knew if I wanted to lose weight and gain muscle, that diet alone would not do it. So I joined a gym. I have belonged to various gyms in my life and even have an elliptical in my basement, but I never lost weight in the past because I hadn’t changed my diet.

I started out slowly, going only once or twice a week. I would use the elliptical for 50 minutes while watching an episode of True Blood or other action show where the cast is ripped. This was great motivation to get to the gym—I could go get bad Chinese food with my co-workers or I could workout and see what trouble Sookie Stackhouse was in today.

In summer 2010, we began receiving our CSA summer share again. We made it a fun weekly routine to pull our daughter in her wagon to the CSA drop off location in our neighborhood. We would also stop by one of the dozens of farmers markets around Minneapolis to fill in what we needed.

I was back on a balanced vegetable diet and increasing my gym time to 2-3 times per week, but the picture was still not complete. The next piece of the puzzle was to start cutting things out that I don’t need. This includes soda, fast food, frozen pizzas, delivery pizza, milk, juice, processed and packaged food, etc.

Breaking these habits did not happen overnight, but over the course of the year I’ve done pretty well. Cutting out soda was easy, especially when I gave up coffee (which was not for weight loss reasons, but for caffeine withdrawl headaches). Since I spend my lunch hour at the gym, I no longer get fast food for lunch. Instead I bring a sandwich (tuna, turkey, chicken, etc.) and a piece of fruit. There are times when I do buy my lunch, but I get a salad instead.

I still enjoy going out to dinner with friends or family and am not too concerned about what I eat there, but I am mindful of the pitfalls (dinner rolls, buffalo wings, movie popcorn, cookie dough Blizzards, etc.). At home we occasionally get take out, but it is just as fast to cook something than wait for delivery or pick up take out.

By cutting these things out, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, I started to really see some progress. I lost 40 pounds by the fall of 2010 without starving myself or counting calories. I am conscious of portions and always read food labels, (especially for the first few ingredients) but it does not rule me.

By fall, I had run out of True Blood and switched to shorter television shows on the elliptical, using the remaining time to lift weights. Again I started slowly with just a few weight machines. I also went back to the internet and read about the benefits of mixing a lifting routine with interval cardio.

I decreased my time on the elliptical, increased my time lifting and started experimenting with intervals on the treadmill. Some people might call it HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but I like to think of it is as MIIT (moderate-intensity interval training). I could always run faster but I am not interested in blacking out or throwing up after a workout, because I do have to go back to work!

Over winter 2010-2011, I was doing a 10 minute warmup on the elliptical (now watching The Tudors in 10 min intervals), then lifting for 20 minutes (I mix in free weights with weight machines), then 20 minutes of intervals (one minute walk, @ 4 mph, one minute jog @ 6 or 7 mph, one minute run at 9 or 9.5 mph, repeat).

Although the treadmill calculates less calories burned doing intervals verses just running @ 8 mph for 20 minutes, I get super sweaty and feel great! Again, I use my phone to motivate me, I listen to Stuff You Should Know or other podcasts while lifting, and Girl Talk or other up tempo music while running.

I now go to the gym 3-5 times a week as my work schedule allows. I work in a very tall building in downtown Minneapolis, so the days that I cannot get there (due to lunch meetings or other) I run/walk up the stairs between meetings, sometimes more than 10 flights at a time. It gets the heart pumping, but I don’t even get winded anymore.

From fall 2010 until now, I have lost another 20 pounds bringing the total to over 60 pounds. My weight has plateaued again, but that is fine. I am slowly gaining muscle while losing the remaining belly fat, which means my weight is pretty stable.

For the winter, we signed up for a winter share from the same CSA. We received a lot of root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.) along with fruits and vegetables they saved from the summer and froze. We include spinach, kale or chard in almost every meal we can. The CSA also includes really good bread and granola they make on the farm.

These days it is all about routine and spending time cooking with my family. We plan a vegetarian night (Meatless Monday!), a fish night (ahi, salmon, sword fish, etc.) and a meat/pasta night (local beef, pork or chicken). With enough leftovers to get us through the rest of the week. My wife and I both bring our lunches and snack on nuts or fruit between meals.

Although I have cut out a lot of junk food, I don’t feel like I am missing out. I still enjoy alcohol and have a glass (or two) of wine or Scotch almost every night. I try to stay away from sugary desserts, but do have the occasional piece of cake or ice cream.

By reading Summer Tomato and the links that Darya provides, I have started to incorporate other foods such as white beans, lentils, quinoa, etc., especially on vegetarian nights. I’ve learned to love food and really pay attention to it instead of just cramming anything into my mouth. I’m always looking for new and interesting recipes. I’m even starting to get to the point that I can make dinner without having to pre-plan it, just by using what is on hand.

This summer we’re signed up with the CSA for our 3rd year, and have added a fruit share. I’m on the look out for an egg share and possibly a bread share, though I might try to start baking my own bread instead.

To summarize, I attribute my weight loss success to a combination of diet, exercise and cutting out the junk. Each one of those things alone would not (and have not in the past) accomplished it. The love of my family and cooking together keeps me going everyday.


Patrick Birke

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Farmers Market Update: Spring Showers

by | Mar 20, 2011
Miner's Lettuce

Miner's Lettuce

Sometimes I’m less excited to go to the farmers market in the rain, but after spending last week in Austin consuming nothing but meat and alcohol I was ecstatic to get back to the market today, even if it meant getting a little wet.

Rainbow Umbrella

Rainbow Umbrella

Luckily my efforts did not go unrewarded. To my astonishment I found stunningly beautiful, deep red heirloom tomatoes today. Tomatoes! I was floored and can’t wait to find out if they taste as good as they look.

First Heirloom Tomatoes

First Heirloom Tomatoes

Also remarkable was the appearance of strawberries. Granted they weren’t as pretty as I know they will be next month, but it’s always wonderful to see a splash of color on an otherwise gray and gloomy day.

First Strawberries

First Strawberries

I had a blast at the farmers market this weekend, stocking up on asparagus, kale, collards, spring onions, and adorable little carrots.

Thumbalina Carrots

Thumbalina Carrots

Green Garlic Bunches

Green Garlic Bunches

I also found some more rare spring delicacies, like miner’s lettuce and fiddlehead ferns.

Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Ferns

And don’t forget to get the best of this amazing citrus season while you have the chance.

Whole Blood Oranges

Whole Blood Oranges

Happy spring everyone!

Today’s purchases ($38):

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 18, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Lots of important food reading this week (and some from last week, since I skipped it). Learn why we should all be afraid of industrial meat production, how bananas are evil and why your dog may be your best friend and workout buddy. There are also a few lessons about how to read science in the news.

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 list of my favorite stories check out my links on Digg. 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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Farmers Market Update: Madison

by | Mar 13, 2011

Indian Trails Greenhouse Room View

Indian Trails Greenhouse Room View

Joan Lambert Bailey was in Tokyo while preparing this farmers market update from her recent trip to her Madison. I’m happy to report that though Joan and her family were startled by the earthquake, they are all okay. To contribute to the relief effort in Japan, please visit The Red Cross.

Joan lives, farms and gardens in Tokyo when she’s not visiting her native Midwest. Follow her from seed to harvest to market at Popcorn Homestead and Everyday Gardens as well as Twitter!

Farmers Market Update: Madison

by Joan Lambert Bailey

Visiting Wisconsin in February is to enter the heart of winter. Brilliant white landscapes shimmer and snap in the cold wind, and anything green seems months away.

Home from Tokyo for a month-long visit, I ventured down to an old haunt – the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison – to find a winter food culture veritably humming with activity and tasty treats. A distilled version of the much larger summer market that rings the Capitol Square twice around, the Late Winter Market (and presumably the Early Winter Market, too) offers up an excellent seasonal selection from the Wisconsin table: maple syrup, a kaledeoscope of cheeses, hearty breads and organic tortillas, mushrooms, and an assortment of meats along with winter greens and root crops.

Dane County Farmer's Market Breakfast Table

Dane County Farmer's Market Breakfast Table

Held at the Madison Senior Center, this day’s Late Winter Market felt more like a church bazaar or community dinner. Rosy-cheeked patrons shook off parkas and hats while deciding whether to start perusing the vendors or grab a table for enjoying the Winter Market Breakfast.

Bleu Mont Dairy Cheese

Bleu Mont Dairy Cheese

True to my Wisconsin roots, I went straight to Bleu Mont Dairy and their bountiful cheese display. A good sharp cheddar is hard to find, but their five-year-old cave-aged bandaged cheddar I tasted there proved a little piece of heaven. The creamy texture and nutty flavor were more than I could have hoped for. Willi Lehner, chief cheese-maker at Bleu Mont, guided me through a few more samples as we talked about his creamery (he’s added a cheese cave and is incorporating alternative energy into the operation), and his own evolution as a cheese-maker (some time spent apprenticing in Switzerland to learn a few old tricks of the trade and his increasing use of organic milk as it became more readily available) since first coming to the market twenty-five years ago.

After tucking a block each of Swiss Reserve and Cave-Aged Banadaged Cheddar into my bag to savor with friends in Tokyo, I ventured around the corner for a closer look at the whimsical cutouts at Gypsy Travelin’ Market. Started at the market twelve years ago with her own recipes, Jae Almond appears to have found a niche offering items made with whole grains, wheat alternatives, non-refined sugar, and vegan recipes. Even as she mentioned business at the market was slow that day due to the protests and a snowy forecast, I couldn’t help but notice a steady stream of her treats fleeing the table. I nabbed the last winged cow cutout for my afternoon coffee, and moved on to see what savory and gluten-free options Silly Yak Bakery and Bread Barn might have.

Silly Yak Great Grains Breads

Silly Yak Great Grains Breads

Gyspy Travelin' Market Winged Cow

Gyspy Travelin' Market Winged Cow

Made fresh daily from non-certified organic wheat berries, the Bread Barn loaves tempted with swirls of cinamon or flecks of jalepeno’s and cheese. The Silly Yak products stored in a cooler to the side (and made in an entirely separate yet neighboring facility) were just as tempting albeit rather picked over by the time I arrived. I opted for a couple rice flour rolls for their heft and golden crusts. (They were utterly fantastic the next day toasted with a bit of unnecessary but oh-so-delicious fresh butter and jam.)

Just as the first flakes of that day’s snowstorm began to fall, I found myself admiring Indian Trails Greenhouse display of lush-leaved edibles and blooming ornamentals. An oasis within an oasis, the table brimmed with the dark green leaves of parsley, the thick ruby-red stems of Swiss Chard, along with sweet-scented jasmine and vibrant primroses, to name but a few.

Such breath-taking greenery put me in a weakened state, when I arrived at Snug Haven Farm’s sign for ‘frost-sweetened’ spinach just down the line. Founded in 1897 as a dairy, the farm uses organic methods to raise hoophouse spinach in the winter months and flowers and tomatoes in the summer. Calvin Hageman, patriarch of the farm and clearly a well-known figure at the market (paper invitations to his birthday party the next day went out with nearly every bag of spinach) offered me a leaf to taste. Talk about truth in advertising: the velvet leaf tasted so deeply sweet and green – so spinach – that I bought a half-pound on the spot for that evening’s salad.

Carl of Snug Haven

Carl of Snug Haven

Snug Haven Spinach

Snug Haven Spinach

At Don’s Produce the greenery again caught my eye – bags of brightly colored mixed greeens looked like the perfect companion to Snug Haven’s spinach – but their dried sweet potatos ultimately stole the show. Straight-up sweet potato chips – no salt or seasoning of any kind – struck me as a perfect addition for soup or to cook with rice. Another customer snapped up a bag saying her dog just loved them, and I was sold. (Our canine friends, though, enjoyed bison liver crackers from Paws Four, a division of Daval’s Bison Meats.)

No trip to a Wisconsin market would be complete without a bit of maple syrup, and so I found myself at Cherokee Bison Farms’ table. Alongside the syrup and their extensive offerings of bison jerky, roasts, ground meat, sausage, bratwurst, etc., they also sold organic sunflower oil. While it might seem odd at first glance – maple syrup, bison meat, and sunflower oil – Leroy and Cindy Fricke bring it all together. The bison pasture in the sunflower fields after harvest and feast in part on the oil processing leftovers – meal and oil settlings – throughout the year to creates a richly flavored meat their customers love.

Cherokee Farms Sunflower Oil

Cherokee Farms Sunflower Oil

Cherokee Farms Maple Syrup

Cherokee Farms Maple Syrup

As the market wound down for the day, I took one last look around the room. Throughout the morning, my eye kept returning to Garden to Be’s table tucked in a corner. Verdant trays of the certified-organic microgreens they grow and sell year-round to area restaurants might have been temptation enough, but the real draw for me were the Black Spanish radishes. Black and crusty and all roughly the size of a tennis ball, the piqued my curiousity. (I’m a fan of root crops almost as much as leafy greens.)

Garden to Be Black Spanish Radishes

Garden to Be Black Spanish Radishes

While chatting with co-owner, Scott Williams, after giving in to my inner vegetable geek I learned about their CSA for canners. Members receive a Processor’s Share four times a growing season with all the ingredients one might desire for homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, the perfect pickle, killer tomato sauce, pesto, rhubarb butter, or a salsa hot enough to thaw winter’s frosty edges. I would have signed up on the spot if I lived here.

What I bought:

  • Bleu Mont Dairy’s Reserve Swiss Cheese and Cave Aged Bandaged Cheddar
  • Gypsy Travelin’ Market Winged Cow Cutout Cookie
  • Silly Yak’s Rice Flour Rolls
  • Snug Haven Farm Spinach – a half pound bag (that barely made it to the car)
  • Don’s Produce Sweet Potato Chips and Salad Greens
  • Daval’s Bison Meats Paws Four Dog Treats
  • Cherokee Bison Farm’s Maple Syrup – Four half-pints
  • Garden to Be’s Black Spanish Radishes
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