Top 10 Most Overrated Health Foods

by | Mar 3, 2014

Photo by Paul Holloway

Like it or not, we tend to believe whatever we are exposed to in the media and in advertisements. In nutrition this usually means that as a society we all follow the same diet fads, glorifying some foods over others in the quest for better health. (It’s okay, I love salmon and coconut water as much as you do).

Problem is though, more often than not the news or the health claims made by food manufacturers vastly overstate any potential health benefits, because it makes a more compelling story and sells more products. Our own confirmation biases tend to make us believe what we’re told, we confidently share our insight with our friends, and suddenly our grocery stores are filled with health foods that really aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

Here are my 10 picks for the most overrated health foods.
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Juicing: Stupid and Pretentious or Nourishing and Enlightening?

by | Jan 22, 2014

Photo by maebmij

I typically don’t like to get involved in religious debates, but I find the current green juice frenzy way too amusing to resist throwing in my own $0.02.

You would have to be living in a wifi-less cave to have not noticed the incredibly vocal community who believes juicing is the panacea of all that is good and healthy on earth.

These people make health claims ranging from silly, unprovable promises like “detoxifying the body” to egregious lies like “juice cures cancer.” They love their juice and get very angry if you suggest even a little bit that juicing isn’t equal to nutritional perfection. If you don’t like juice, you probably don’t like kittens or rainbows either.

On the other side of the spectrum there’s the more recent anti-juice backlash. These folks point to the hand-wavy research testimonials by juice proponents and mock the lack of solid science behind the craze.

They sit smugly on their high horse, but are not-so-secretly fuming that green juice has become a pretentious, high-priced status symbol for celebrities and wealthy, West Coast elitists. They hate that everyone else is so dumb, and wish we’d all stop talking about it already.

And let’s not forget the people who think juicing is something else entirely.

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For the Love of Food

by | Jan 10, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This week kale is worse than soda, fasting goes mainstream, and you’re still not walking enough.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). 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).
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For the Love of Food

by | Sep 6, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This week video games reverse age-related cognitive decline, “natural” foods aren’t so natural, and fruit juice takes another hit.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). 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).

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For the Love of Food

by | Aug 23, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This week metals lurk in makeup and drinking water, root-to-stalk is the new nose-to-tail, and making sense of juicing.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). 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).

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6 Things To Consider Before Buying A Juicer (+ more tips for fruit & vegetable juicing)

by | Mar 4, 2013

Photo by Tawheed Manzoor

Juicing fruits and vegetables is widely considered a healthy habit, even though most nutrition experts caution against the excessive sugar and calories you get from juicing.

Although I’ve had tons of questions about it, I’ve avoided discussing juicing at Summer Tomato because I didn’t think there were enough positive things to say to warrant an entire blog post.

That is, until I got a juicer.

Two months ago (Update: it’s been a year now, and while I don’t juice regularly (see reason #6) I still enjoy it on occasion) a Breville juicer and blender magically appeared in my kitchen. I wasn’t particularly excited about it, but agreed to participate in the ensuing juicing experiment—for research purposes, of course. The idea was to start juicing a few mornings a week, just to see what happens.

I was more than a little surprised how much I enjoyed it. Even though it was mostly vegetables, I expected the juice to be very sweet, which it wasn’t. Instead it was bright and refreshing, like a summer salad. It also tasted and made me feel good, and as long as I kept the serving size to 8oz or less it was easy to maintain my weight.

I also find that fresh juice is a great way to fend off a cold, when I feel one coming on.

But juicing is not for everyone. And before jumping in head first, there are a few things you should consider.

Update: Read this for more on the science and health of juicing.

6 Things To Consider Before Buying A Juicer

1. Fruit juice and vegetable juice are not created equal

It may sound counter-intuitive, but fruit juice may actually raise your risk of heart disease. Fructose, the primary sugar found in fruit, is transformed into triglycerides in the liver and promotes insulin resistance, both of which promote heart disease. Similarly, fruit juice increases type 2 diabetes risk while whole fruit lowers it.

Why do you think high-fructose corn syrup is so bad for you?

While whole fruit does not typically pose a problem because of its high fiber content, concentrating fruit by juicing it increases the fructose per serving dramatically. Think about how many oranges go into making one small cup of OJ, and you’ll start to see what I mean.

If you’re getting a juicer because you think apple-orange juice is going to make you healthier, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Plan to juice mostly vegetables or else getting a juicer is not a particularly healthy choice.

2. You still need to eat your vegetables

Don’t assume that drinking your vegetables is the same as eating them. Yes, as in the case with fructose you will be concentrating vitamins and minerals from your vegetables, but you will also be losing a lot of fiber that slows digestion and helps you feel full.

The rate you digest food and your satisfaction after eating are just as important to your overall health as the nutrients you consume. So while juicing can add to your overall nutrient intake, it cannot replace your daily vegetable consumption.

3. Juicing may stall weight loss

Though vegetables have less fructose than fruit, it is still an incredibly efficient way to take in calories, something most of us don’t need. If you choose to experiment with juicing while attempting to lose weight remember that you still need to watch your portion size, and consider reducing it if weight loss stalls.

I recommend no more than one 8oz juice serving per day if you are trying to lose weight. This is pretty small.

4. Prepare to do a lot of shopping

As noted in the above points, juicers take large quantities of vegetables and turn them into small amounts of juice. Additionally you need to continue buying and eating vegetables for your regular meals.

All this means you’d better plan to do a lot of shopping for produce if you want to keep your refrigerator stocked. If you aren’t prepared for this, you might find you don’t get the use you expected out of your new purchase.

5. Expect to drop some cash

Juicers aren’t cheap, nor are all those shopping trips. Consider juicing a luxury, not a necessity. So if money is an issue for you, you might want to look elsewhere to upgrade your healthstyle.

One thing we’ve experienced with the Breville juice and blend is that it feels like overkill for the kind of juicing we’re doing at home. While some of you may be juicing for large groups, juicing for two does not require an industrial strength machine.

Keep in mind that a larger, more powerful juicer will be harder to work, harder to clean and difficult to store. Consider a smaller size if possible. This smaller model from Breville looks like a fantastic option for a 2-person household.

Here’s a good midrange option: Breville Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice Extractor

6. Expect a time commitment

All the shopping, juicing and cleaning does take some time. Making juice for two and cleaning up takes about 10-15 minutes each morning. And as I mentioned above, extra shopping is required (we can no longer fit a week’s worth of vegetables in the fridge, so multiple store trips are necessary).

While the extra work is worth it if you enjoy the juicing experience, you should factor it in while making your purchasing decision.

A few other tips for juicing

If you do decide to take the plunge, here are a few suggestions we’ve found make the best juicing experience:

  • Focus on vegetables, but include some fruit. We’ve found that one small apple makes a huge difference in flavor. This is all we recommend so far in the fruit department.
  • Include 1-2 root vegetables–such as carrots or beets–to add additional flavor and antioxidants. We like to include either 2 small carrots (1 large) or 2 small beets (1 large). These tend to contribute a tad more sugar and a nice earthy flavor, adding complexity.
  • Add at least one leafy green vegetable. We’ve been happy with kale, broccoli and chard (currently in season), but others likely work as well.
  • Include one watery vegetable. Cucumber, celery and other watery vegetables help dilute the too-strong flavors of the previous 3 ingredients. This can make a big difference in drinkability, while adding some nice flavor and additional vitamins.
  • Don’t forget a garnish. A small amount of a strong flavored item such as ginger, lemon, mint or other herb can make your juice a real pleasure to drink while adding highly concentrated antioxidants.
  • Consider adding back a few scoops of the fiber that is filtered out by the juicer. This will make your juice more filling.

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Originally published February 24, 2011.

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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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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 19, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

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

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

Links of the week

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

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For The Love of Food

by | Jan 15, 2010
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

In case you missed it, check out the interview I did with the Irish Times about the ineffectiveness of traditional weight loss diets. It turned out to be the most popular article on their site the day it came out.

Also be sure to read Michael Ruhlman’s beautiful piece about cooking in American culture. Unfortunately though, Ruhlman’s insight is overshadowed this week by the myopic and painfully unenlightened BS article of the week in The Atlantic about the supposed evils of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program. I’d love to know your thoughts on both.

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

Links of the Week

  • Bin diets – get slim for less <<I was interviewed by Conor Pope of the Irish Times about avoiding diets and getting healthy. Conor has a fantastic perspective on health and fitness, pop over there and let me know what you think. (Irish Times)
  • America: Too Stupid To Cook <<This is a brilliant piece by Michael Ruhlman. Why is it so many of us dismiss cooking as being too hard or too much effort? Maybe it is because that’s what we’ve been raised to believe. (Michael Ruhlman)
  • Protection of Food Supply Faces Problems <<Did you know that 25% of Americans get food poisoning each year while only 1% of French do? Our industrial food supply is the likely culprit. (CBS)
  • Counting of Calories Isn’t Always Accurate <<Another reason to stop counting calories–labels are wrong. Just eat real, healthy food without labels on it and news like this won’t bother you. (New York Times)
  • Cultivating Failure <<BS of the week. This very controversial article is one of the most irresponsible pieces of journalism I’ve ever had the displeasure to read. The Atlantic FAIL.
  • 7 Exercise and Fitness Beliefs You Need to Overcome <<Don’t like exercise? Time to get over it. Stick with a fitness routine a little while and I bet you’ll change your mind. (Dumb Little Man)
  • Does your diet require a Ph.D.? <<Turns out the simplest diets are the most effective. As someone who has finished the better part of a PhD, I promise you don’t need formal training to eat healthy. (Booster Shots)
  • Genetic causes of obesity: 1%? <<To me it always feels silly to talk about the genetic causes of obesity, since obviously the problem is relatively new and started around the time we embraced the low fat (high sugar) lifestyle. But it is always good to examine the data supporting any hypothesis. (Food Politics)
  • Roasted Beet Salad with Tahini Yuzu Kosho Dressing <<I’m embracing root vegetables for the rest of the month, and this recipe for roasted beets with tahini dressing has inspired me to grab some beets this weekend at the farmers market. (Chez Us)
  • Should You Eat or Drink Your Fruits and Veggies? An Experiment. <<I often get asked about juice and people are sometimes surprised by my answer. I’m not a big fan, and generally treat juice as a special occasion food. This post by my friend Travis Saunders will help explain why. (Obesity Panacea)

What inspired you this week?

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10 Common Groceries I Never Buy

by | Mar 7, 2009

In general I would say I eat pretty normal food. Admittedly the fruits and vegetables I buy are extraordinary (thank you San Francisco), but they are still just plants that grow out of the dirt in California. I realized recently that what is truly unusual about my diet are the groceries I do not buy.

10 Groceries I Never Buy

(and why I think there are better things to spend my money on)

  1. Sliced bread. Sure my grandparents think it is the greatest invention of all time (literally), but I would argue that the fluffy loaves that come in plastic bags at the market can barely be considered food. Don’t believe me? Check the ingredients list. If you don’t fall asleep by the time you get to the bottom, try pronouncing some of those words in the middle. Exthoxylated…wuh?
  2. Fruit yogurts. It is generally accepted without question that yogurt is good for you. That may be the case for old-fashioned plain yogurt (though I am still not convinced), but I guarantee you those sugary yogurts that take up the bulk of the dairy case do not qualify as health food. 15 grams of sugar is my cut off before a food transitions to dessert. Look before you eat.
  3. Iceberg or romaine lettuce. Besides being colorless and flavorless, these boring greens add little (zero?) nutrition to your life. Instead I buy the colorful, loose spring mixes that come in bags, boxes or bulk bins at the grocery store and farmers market. If you prefer to stick with one kind of salad green at a time, try green or red leafed lettuce. Mix it up occasionally with cabbage or radicchio.
  4. Corn-fed beef. As I have explained before, I love beef (even though I don’t eat much of it). When I decide it is worth the indulgence, I go straight for the gourmet grass-fed kind. Why? Cows were never meant to eat corn (industrial cows have been bred to do it), and those that do are sicker and less nutritious than cows that are pastured. Moreover, the factories that process this sub-par beef are likely to be huge, unsanitary and foster E. Coli outbreaks. Thanks, but I’ll pass.
  5. Soda. There was a time in my life when I drank quarts of Diet Coke a day. But since I started focusing on my health I gave it up and never looked back. Even natural sodas add very little to your quality of life. And if they contain full sugar, your life may even be shortened. When I’m thirsty I drink water.
  6. Pancake or brownie mixes. I am not immune from the occasional pancake or brownie craving (and sometimes my friends demand these of me!). So if it is a special occasion, why bother with the boxed stuff? Both these goodies are easy to make from scratch and worth a little extra time in the kitchen to make them spectacular! Isn’t that what indulgence is all about?
  7. Winter tomatoes. Need I say more? There is no room in my life (usually) for an inadequate tomato. Canned tomatoes are a better option during the spring and winter.
  8. Juice. Even 100% fresh squeezed juice is dangerous for your blood sugar and insulin levels (not to mention your BMI). If I decide to try some, I consume less than 8 oz. You can probably guess what I think about the phony 10% juice products from concentrate (see point #5).
  9. Deli meats. On the surface these purportedly lean meats seem to be healthy. But under the surface they are packed with salts, sugars and nitrates. For a quick protein fix, try canned salmon (boneless, skinless), sardines or lox.
  10. Cheese that comes in plastic. Similar to beef, I indulge in cheese so infrequently that I prefer to go straight to Cowgirl Creamery for the good stuff! My recent favorite is called Midnight Moon.
  • What popular items don’t you buy?
  • Have any questions about other common items in your shopping cart?
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