10 Reasons To Never Eat Free Food

by | Aug 22, 2012
By D Sharon Pruitt

By D Sharon Pruitt

Most people’s eyes light up if free food is mentioned. But using “free” as an excuse to eat junk food is nothing to be proud of.

We get excited by the concept of free food because at first glance it seems like a great value. But cheap, mass-produced food isn’t worth much in health, taste or even satisfaction.

Thus one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my 12 years of higher education is:

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Occasionally someone will offer you high-quality food at no cost, but these chances are few and far between. More often you will find yourself wading through a sea of donuts, pizza, cookies and other junk food.

Your best bet is skipping the empty calories all together when attending meetings, seminars and other public events.

10 reasons to never eat free food

  1. It’s cheap. You might think that free food is a bargain, but if you think about what you’re really getting it won’t seem like such a good deal. Cheap food means low-quality, mass-produced calories made from industrial processes. That’s the stuff we want to avoid.
  2. It’s flavorless. The right combinations of sugar, fat and salt, pretty easily deceive your brain, as these ingredients strongly activate your neural reward pathways. But if you try and focus on the true flavor of food and eat mindfully, you’ll learn to taste the difference between real food and the flavorlessness industrial stuff.
  3. It’s bad for you. Processed foods are responsible for almost all “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. When you wolf down a few of those Costco brownie bites at happy hour, you are directly contributing to your likelihood of developing these chronic diseases. Is that value?
  4. You aren’t saving money. You may tell yourself that this free meal will keep you from eating later, but there’s a good chance you will eat again anyway. Processed foods do not satisfy you, but actually stimulate your appetite and strengthen future cravings. Also, if you factor in your future health care costs, what you save by eating that $2 slice of free pizza starts to seem rather trivial.
  5. You’ll feel gross later. Junk food makes you feel bad, both physically and mentally. If someone offered you a free headache, would you take it?
  6. It screws up your metabolism. Highly refined foods can induce insulin resistance over the next few hours, making your next meal more fattening. If you make a habit of eating cheap abundant food, this condition can become chronic and develop into type 2 diabetes. What a bargain!
  7. You’ll gain weight. With insulin resistance comes weight gain, and with time you will gain more weight eating fewer calories. Unfortunately, people aren’t often giving away free plus-sized jeans.
  8. You’re eating empty calories. When you submit to eating cheap food, you are also choosing not to eat nutritious food. Choosing a diet rich in vitamins and other essential nutrients is necessary for reducing risk for sickness and disease. Foods typically offered as free don’t even fulfill our most basic nutritional (or emotional) needs.
  9. You don’t need it. Chances are you get plenty of calories in your typical day. So why do we feel like we need to eat junk food just because it is free? Healthy food does not have to be very expensive.
  10. It isn’t worth it. The truth is free junk food isn’t really free. Even if processed foods don’t cost you money, they still cost you your health, happiness and sense of well-being. You can do better.

Why do you eat free food? Originally published September 21, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Sep 30, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

I had to restrain myself from including 20 articles in this week’s post, but for your sake I kept it to my usual top 10. Whatever you do don’t miss Bittman’s calculations on the price of broccoli versus McDonald’s, how easy it is to sell fruit to kids, how global warming is affecting the fishing industry, how the food industry is responding to the Real Food movement, and the other five articles.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan 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 | May 8, 2009
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or my Facebook fan page know I read a lot about food and health. Every week I post dozens of interesting articles and tips I find around the internet, most of which I do not have time to blog about. In the interest of awesomeness (and time) I have decided to start posting my favorite articles from the week  every Friday in a new segment, “For The Love of Food.”

For those of you with time constraints or an aversion to social media, this should help you find and prioritize the most worthwhile food and health stories and recipes. It will also free me up to do more in depth research for my Monday and Wednesday posts, something I think we can all appreciate.

I work like mad to keep up with the most interesting news on the web, but I would love your help in this! Please feel free to send me your favorite links and I might include them in Friday’s post (with a shout out, of course!). If you think it is appropriate, you are welcome to send me articles from your own website, but please please please only send me your best material. My time is extremely limited and I hope no one chooses to abuse it by spamming me with every single one of their blog posts. But I do want to see your best work, so send it along!

If you find anything awesome that I missed, go ahead and leave us a link in the comments.

Oh, and since I know you’re wondering, yes I carved that heart out of a red bell pepper myself ;)

For The Love of Food

  • Freeze That Thought <<My favorite advice article this week about optimizing your freezer, by Mark Bittman at the New York Times.
  • Drink Away Dementia? <<There isn’t enough info about the role of food in cognitive health. I hope all the news is this good! From Medline.

Let us know what you think!

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How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Foods To Avoid

by | Apr 22, 2009
Junk Food

Junk Food

What truly liberated me from worrying about food all the time was shifting my thoughts and fears away from things I couldn’t or shouldn’t eat and instead focusing on delicious foods–foods I love–that also make me healthy. Changing my relationship with food in this way turned it from something that caused me anxiety to something that brought me pleasure.

One unexpected benefit of choosing healthy, tasty foods over bland diet foods was that many of my old cravings for sugary, unhealthy fare disappeared. While I have not found a clear scientific explanation for this, it stands to reason that a nourished body would be less prone to strong feelings of need toward certain foods. I was amazed how powerful it can be to focus on health instead of dieting. These days, really unhealthy foods barely even tempt me.

(This post is the final post of the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Part one is Stock Your Pantry, part two is Essential Groceries, part three is Seasonal Shopping, part four is Stock Your Freezer and part five is Balanced Meals. Get future posts by signing up for email or RSS updates–always free of cost and spam.)

Upgrading your healthstyle will go far in helping you overcome your cravings, but as I much as I would love to tell you that you can eat any foods you want in any quantities you want, we all know this is not true. While you are focusing on eating more of the foods you love there are also foods that are generally worth avoiding as part as your daily healthstyle.

There is room for anything in a healthy life, but here are some foods that DO NOT promote health and can lead to weight gain:

  • Sugar In any form, sugar wreaks havoc on your health and metabolism. Two keys to protecting yourself from sugar damage are quantity and timing. Do not eat too much sugar at once (stick to small desserts) and do not eat sugar very frequently. I try to limit real desserts to once or twice per week (max) and satisfy all other sweets cravings with fruit. Eating whole grains is particularly effective at reducing sugar cravings.
  • Refined flour Processed grains (all flour) are almost as bad as sugar in their effect on your metabolism. In fact, your body processes them exactly the same way. Generally look for alternatives to breads, pastas and other foods made with flour. Instead focus on getting carbohydrates from intact whole grains. Try to limit refined flour foods to less than once per day. If you are actively trying to lose weight, I would make an effort to cut these out completely.
  • Trans fat Twenty years ago scientists believed they had solved the problem of saturated fat by replacing it with an artificial solid fat made from plants. It turned out these processed fats, trans-fats, are one of the most dangerous foods you can put into your body. Not only do they raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol, they also contribute to lowering your “good” HDL cholesterol–a double whammy for your health. No amount of trans-fat is considered safe in the diet (the data is striking), and you should avoid these processed fats completely. Better to eat foods made with real butter. Better yet, choose healthy fats from vegetable sources like coconut oil, olive oil and canola oil.
  • Anything processed It is worth emphasizing that nothing processed has ever proven to be healthier for you than real whole foods–even foods with fantastic health claims on the package. In fact, as Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, a health claim on a package is a pretty good sign that a food is bad for you. There are no stickers for “Whole Grain” or “Low Carb” on your vegetables, and those are what you should be eating.
  • Red meat As I discussed earlier this week, red meat is probably not good for you. Some people argue that it is really bad for you, and some people think it is not so bad. It appears to not be quite as bad as processed foods, but there are plenty of compelling reasons to limit how much red meat you eat. For myself personally, cancer is a bigger fear than heart disease. But there is also some data that saturated fat plays a role in insulin resistance. I recommend less than one (4 oz) serving of red meat per week. The same can be said about poultry with skin.

I do not recommend completely eliminating foods you love–even if they are bad for you–because this is not something you can maintain forever and it strips some of the joy from life. Instead I suggest trying a few customizable strategies to be sure that the less healthy foods you love bring you happiness, but do not damage your body:

  • Reduce, Don’t Eliminate Simply being aware of how often you eat these foods and trying to stick to the guidelines above can drastically improve your healthstyle. If you currently eat a lot of sugar, processed foods or red meat, do not attempt to completely overhaul your diet overnight. Make changes gradually or it will be very difficult to make them permanent.
  • Be Picky When you first start to upgrade your healthstyle, identify foods you can do without and those you can’t live without. Some changes will be easier for some people, while others are nearly impossible. Focus on the easier changes and do not beat yourself up over things that are difficult for you. Every little change you make will add up to a healthier you.
  • Set Up Simple Rules It is often hard to keep track of everything you do or do not eat. A food journal or Twitter can help with this, but the simpler your healthstyle the better. Setting up simple, easy to remember rules for yourself can help you make healthy changes. The guidelines above are a great place to start. For example, if you decide in advance you can only have one dessert per week, you can be sure that the one you choose is well worth the wait. Use simple rules to both increase your good habits and decrease your bad ones. Experiment to find simple rules that work for you. For example, if you love to eat pizza make a deal with yourself that if you have it you must have a big pile greens on the side–this may also help you eat one less piece.

Please share with us the strategies and rules you use to upgrade your healthstyle!

This is the final post in the series How To Get Started Eating Healthy. Much thanks to those of you have shared your tips and insights in the comments so far. Summer Tomato will continue to build upon these ideas and help make it easier for you to upgrade your healthstyle. If you have specific questions, concerns or even an idea for a future post please submit them in the Ask Me section.

Read more How To Get Started Eating Healthy:

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10 Super Bowl Snacks That Aren’t All Bad

by | Jan 21, 2009

As much as I wish it weren’t true I know several people that consider the Super Bowl to be the biggest, most important holiday of the year. For most of us though, the Big Game is just another excuse to party.

The only problem is that at most Super Bowl parties, junk food runs the field.

If you have been following this blog you probably noticed that I am not the biggest fan of diets. But one thing I loathe even more than a regimented diet is diet food.

I mean, low-calorie egg rolls? What’s the point?

So I am not going to tell you to buy baked potato chips, unless of course you actually prefer them to the other kind. I am personally fond of Kettle Chips, but I eat them so rarely that if they are around and I feel like having a few I don’t worry about it. You shouldn’t stress out too much about things you enjoy.

On the other hand, you should clearly avoid putting down several bags of Kettle Chips (or anything else) on Super Bowl Sunday. But there are still a ton of delicious snacks you can enjoy during the game without doing too much damage to your health or physique.

Buy what you like, but try to choose most of your snacks from this healthy list:

  1. Tortilla chips – Despite my previous endorsement of fine potato chips, tortilla chips are probably a better option. They have slightly fewer calories, a little more fiber and, most importantly, have a better fat profile (more polyunsaturated and less saturated fats). These days you don’t have to worry as much about trans fat (hydrogenated oils) as you used to because it has been banned in several states, but it is worth checking the back of the bag to be sure.
  2. Salsa – As far as health goes, salsa is almost a perfect food. Tomatoes, onions, cilantro, limes and chilies are all great for you. Salsa is low in calories, has little to no fat or carbs and makes almost everything taste better. One way to improve store bought salsa is to use it as a base and add your own fresh tomatoes, onions and cilantro. It really makes a big difference.
  3. Guacamole – Although it is high in calories, this avocado-based dip is filled with monounsaturated fats that are both healthy and filling. Make your own to avoid all the extra weird ingredients added to the store bought kind. Just mash up some avocados, squeeze in some lime and season with sea salt and pepper. My secret is to add half a cup or so of the salsa I made—this is a tastier way to enhance the flavor than those mysterious powder mixes. If you finish making it and it is still bland, add more lime and/or salt. A small minced garlic clove can be a nice addition too.
  4. Cut vegetables – I am grossed out by those slimly little bullet-shaped carrots that come in a bag, but real fresh carrot sticks are fantastic. If you can, get your vegetables from the farmers market the day before. This time of year you can find carrots, celery, bell pepper, radishes and daikon. The flavors of market fresh veggies will astound you and elevate this otherwise boring snack food into something divine. What a difference a real vegetable makes!
  5. Nuts – Nuts are one of the easiest, healthiest snack foods out there. It doesn’t even really matter what kind you get, they all have their own benefits. As usual, I recommend going with premium quality if you are going to serve them solo. I am particularly impressed with the value of nuts from Trader Joe’s. They are about half the price of nuts everywhere else and taste even better.
  6. Tacos – If you are serving a meal to your guests then tacos are a great, healthy option. Grilled meats (or veggies) are pretty harmless in taco-sized quantities. Use the small little corn tortillas (keep them warm and soft by wrapping them in a clean towel and leaving them in a low temperature oven) and serve cut up tomatoes, onions, cilantro (pico di gallo) and hot sauce. Authentic Mexican tacos do not have cheese on them, so just skip it. Your friends will love you I promise.
  7. Fruit – Everyone loves a platter of fresh cut fruit. This time of year we have all kinds of citrus and apples to choose from. Kiwis are in season too if you are looking for something more exotic.
  8. Steamed artichoke – Artichokes are bursting with antioxidants, and serving them whole makes for a beautiful snack that a room full of people can enjoy. Cut off the top third of the leaves, trim the remaining pointy leaves with scissors, remove the stem and steam it upside down in a covered pot. After 20 minutes turn it with tongs so the leaves are pointing up. Drizzle with olive oil, Meyer lemon juice, chopped Italian parsley and sea salt, and steam for another 20 minutes or until the leaves are easy to remove. With this much flavor you don’t even need a dip.
  9. Hummus – This Middle Eastern dip is delicious and much healthier for you than your standard Super Bowl party fare. Serve it next to those cut up vegetables. My recipe is here.
  10. Cucumber water – Even if your guests are spending most of the day by the kegerator, it is in everyone’s best interest to stay hydrated. Slice up some cucumbers and add them to a pitcher of water for a simple and impressive refresher.

What are your favorite healthy Super Bowl snack foods?

UPDATE: This article is also available at Synapse.

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