For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 5, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

And we’re back! Sorry for the hiatus, I had to spend a few weeks finishing up a big project I’m working on. Keep calm and carry on.

This week lard is making a comeback, salt may improve your coffee, and why we aren’t eating more GMO animals.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market

by | Oct 1, 2012

Photo by rick

“I don’t live in California and don’t have access to year-round amazing produce like you do. How am I supposed to eat healthy without a local farmers market?”

Not everyone is blessed with the kind of produce we have here in California, but that shouldn’t prevent you from eating healthy, delicious food year round. Although the local food movement is awesome and doing a tremendous amount to help people make better food choices, it isn’t a requirement for healthy eating.

Good produce can still be found in the winter. Here are 13 tips for eating healthy even if you don’t have a local farmers market.

How To Eat Healthy Without A Local Farmers Market

1. Shop in season, even if it’s from CA, FL or TX.

Though local food can taste amazing, it’s not the only place delicious food can come from. Buying foods that are in season but shipped from somewhere a little farther from home will taste better and be cheaper than food shipped from another hemisphere. Follow the seasons and let your local grocery store surprise you.

2. Learn to cook

Good produce will only get you so far if you don’t know how to prepare it. Follow food blogs, buy a cookbook from your favorite celebrity chef and get your hands dirty in the kitchen. The learning curve is short and the skills (and pleasures) will last you a lifetime.

3. Find dedicated produce marts

Big grocery stores and farmers markets are not the only options for fruits and vegetables. Look around town for smaller, dedicated produce marts. These will often have better selections than what’s offered at the local chain store.

4. Find natural stores

I used to avoid natural food stores because I always assumed they were too expensive and filled with weird, hippy foods. Though these things can sometimes be true, natural food stores are a great source of high-quality organic produce and other healthy foods.

5. Find ethnic grocers

Asian and Latino markets are fantastic resources for interesting, tasty and often very inexpensive produce. Everything they carry might not be organic, but healthwise it’s more important to eat a variety of produce than to be rigid about organic standards.

6. Buy vegetables

Vegetables are the basis of any healthy diet. If you can find any at all, you should buy and eat them.

7. Buy fruits

Citrus fruits from Florida and California are amazing in the winter, and ship well to almost anywhere. You should also be able to find some good pears and apples. Eat fruit, it’s nature’s candy.

8. Buy fish

One advantage of large grocery stores is they have the resources to ship fish safely from almost anywhere. Whole Foods in particular has an excellent seafood section, if you have one in your town.

Vegetables are not the only health food and fish is some of the highest quality protein and fat you can eat. Keep your eye out for wild fish varieties and try to avoid tuna and swordfish, which are high in mercury.

Read more on How to choose fish and seafood.

9. Buy legumes

Legumes (beans and lentils) are easy to store, easy to cook, taste delicious and are available everywhere year round. I recommend experimenting with dry beans and using a pressure cooker to prepare them. Check the bulk bins for the best deals.

10. Buy bulk grains

Oats, barley, brown rice, farro and quinoa are all relatively easy to find, particularly in the bulk sections of natural and regular grocery stores, and there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot more. Intact grains are filled with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber, and are effective at curbing sugar cravings.

11. Buy nuts

Local nuts are tasty, but only a bonus in a healthy foodie’s arsenal. Feel free to stock up on almonds, cashews, peanuts and pistachios no matter where they come from. Nuts are healthy and great for both cooking and snacking.

12. Survey the crisper case for interesting ingredients

Even in big chain supermarkets I’m often surprised at the variety of ingredients I find in the vegetable crisper. Pay close attention in this aisle and look for fresh herbs and ingredients like ginger. I’ve even found more exotic items like lemongrass and specialty mushrooms. Herbs and spices go a long way in making even non-local vegetables taste amazing.

13. Find the ethnic food sections and browse ingredients

Take your cooking to the next level by browsing the ethnic food sections for interesting ingredients. Most grocery stores have at least a small section specializing in Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Indian and other ethnic foods. These are a great resource for new flavors and can give you inspiration for cooking the fabulous veggies you pick up from around town.

What are your tips for finding healthy foods without a local farmers market?

Originally published October 25, 2010.

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Red Meat Is Killing Us All! Or not…

by | Mar 14, 2012

Photo by Irwin-Scott

I’ve had about a zillion people ask me about a new study that came out in the Archives of Internal Medicine this week linking red meat consumption to increased mortality.

Naturally some people are afraid their carne asada habit may be dooming them to an early death, and who could blame them with headlines like these?

On the other hand, I suspect many of you have dismissed the study out of hand because it conflicts with your world view that animal foods only make good things happen.

But in the interest of science and being grown ups, let’s take a look at the study and see what we can learn.

First, it is worth mentioning that the study was fairly well-designed and conducted by a respectable team of scientists at Harvard. They reanalyzed data from two large prospective cohort studies: The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS, 1986-2008) and the Nurses Health Study (NHS, 1980-2008).

Both cohorts were large groups of health care professionals, which would presumably limit differences in education and income that can often confound health studies. The participants filled out regular food frequency questionnaires that have been previously validated as decently reliable (though food frequency questionnaires are notoriously unreliable).

Importantly, all the participants were eating Western diets during what have come to be known as the least healthy decades in US history. Also important, during the course of the study both red and processed meat consumption declined in both men and women.

“The mean daily intake of unprocessed red meat dropped from 0.75 to 0.63 servings from 1986 to 2006 in men and from 1.10 to 0.55 servings from 1980 to 2006 in women.”

The authors never comment on what this reduced consumption means for their analysis, however, since they “created cumulative averages of food intake from baseline to death from the repeated food frequency questionnaires.”

According to the report, people who ate the most red meat were more likely to smoke, drink, eat far more calories and be overweight. They were also less likely to exercise and eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish. Basically they were less healthy people with less healthy habits.

The authors claim to have controlled for such lifestyle factors by doing statistical corrections for these variables, which is the industry standard for this type of analysis. They also performed a sensitivity analysis to see if any other dietary variable (including glycemic load) may have impacted their results. They did not detect any significant differences when controlling for these factors, which I admittedly find surprising.

To their credit, the authors made an effort to distinguish between processed and unprocessed meats. Given the time during which the study took place, however, it’s unlikely that any of the participants were eating non-industrial, grass-fed and pastured meat. I think this is an important point, particularly when considering cancer mortality, since toxic compounds tend to accumulate in the fat of animals.

In their analysis the authors estimated that for every one serving of red meat per day (defined as 3 oz), total mortality risk increased by 12% (20% for processed red meat alone, 13% for unprocessed). Heart disease risk increased by 16% for total red meat (21% for processed red meat, 18% for processed), and cancer risk increased 10% for total red meat (16% for processed, 10% unprocessed).

To help put this in perspective, in the Nurses Health Study (the larger of the two) the group that ate the least meat consumed about a 1.5 oz (half a deck of cards) of meat per day and the group that ate the most consumed around 6.5 oz of meat per day (here’s the data I’m pulling from, using the 3 oz serving size for conversion).

Remember, these numbers are for daily consumption. For the highest group, that’s nearly 3 pounds per week (45.5 oz). For the lowest group, under 1 pound (10.5 oz). Realistically, the lowest group probably ate red meat 1-2 times per week, while the highest group ate it once or twice a day. How we got from here to “all red meat will kill you” isn’t exactly clear.

Interestingly, when they did an analysis to see the specific effect of saturated fat in meat it accounted for only 4% of the 16% estimated risk. This is fairly low considering that saturated fat is supposedly what makes meat so bad for us by raising cholesterol. But since the authors say that saturated fat could account for some of the increased risk, can we at least assume that those eating the most meat were more likely to have higher cholesterol? Not so fast. It turns out that in both cohorts, those in the lowest group of meat consumption were the most likely to have high cholesterol. (Thanks Denise Minger for making this astute observation).

So what about the meat is killing us exactly? In addition to saturated fat, the authors also estimated that heme iron in meat (assumed to be a risk factor for some diseases) can account for another 5% of the risk, but they do not elaborate on how this might work. It is unclear what else about red meat may be increasing mortality risk, though preservation methods are suspected for the higher risk associated with processed meats.

The authors also used some fancy statistical magic to estimate what would happen if the participants theoretically replaced one “daily” meat serving with an equal portion of either fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy or whole grains and determined that mortality risk would decline 7%, 14%, 19%, 10%, 10% and 14%, respectively. It is important to remember though that *ahem* these are not real experiments but merely estimations based on the numbers and statistical models used in this study. At best an analysis like this can generate a hypothesis that could then be tested in a controlled trial.

Fortunately controlled studies replacing meats (oh, and all the other crap in the Western diet) with other nutritious, whole foods have already been done. For example, in the Lyon Diet Heart Study (1988) a group of patients who had already had a heart attack were instructed to change their diets. One group went on the low-fat American Heart Association diet, the other group adopted a Mediterranean style diet that included lots of green and root vegetables, fruits, legumes, more fish and poultry, less red meat, olive oil and no cream. After only 3 years the study was stopped by the ethics and safety committee because the Mediterranean diet group had a 70% reduced risk of death compared to those on the low-fat diet.

Studies have consistently shown that replacing some dietary meat with fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of heart disease. However, replacing red meat with anything else (even olive oil) seems to be pointless. For this reason I’ve always been skeptical that red meat is uniquely bad when the simpler explanation would be that eating more fish is uniquely good. I don’t see how this new analysis of old studies changes anything.

Lastly, although the authors included controls for lifestyle factors I’m highly suspicious that people with so many unhealthy habits are at an increased risk of death primarily because of meat consumption. Consequently, all that I’d feel comfortable concluding from the new analysis is that in the context of a Western diet, eating something other than meat every once in awhile is probably a good idea. Outside of the Western diet? It’s much harder to say.

What are your thoughts on the study?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Feb 17, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

This week McDonald’s comes up with a game changer, Dr. Oz proves once again that he’s a scumbag, and science gives us a few more reasons to eat fish.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Feb 3, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

Apparently I wasn’t the only one with sugar on the brain this week. The now infamous Dr. Lustig thinks the government should treat sugar like tobacco and alcohol, but Marion Nestle is not convinced. I also found an excellent article from the anti-grain crowd admitting rice might not be so bad for you after all. Rejoice!

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Jan 20, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

There are certainly some must reads this week, including Ruth Reichl’s speech from the Good Food Awards about how the food landscape has changed (for the better) in America. I also found an excellent discussion of the Paula Deen fiasco, and a handful of studies showing exercise is even more awesome than we knew.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Dec 16, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

This week my biggest fear about GMO has come true, why your kids might be eating Twinkies for breakfast and 101 reasons to walk more and take the stairs.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Dec 2, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

This week some interesting new data on the ideal amount of salt to eat, frightening news about BPA and canned soup, and a series of fascinating articles on how to maintain cognitive health.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Nov 18, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Lots of talk this week about the pros and cons of local foods. Also, congress says pizza is a vegetable, heritage turkeys are the greatest thing since bacon and coffee/tea may reduce your risk of mercury exposure from fish.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 21, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

We have some fabulous reading this week including a dose of reality for the cavepeople in the room, some scary news about the effect of pollution on birth defects, and a TV commercial that makes me want to ride my bike to France.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato), Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. 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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