For The Love Of Food

by | Aug 26, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Another week of thought provoking food and health articles including an excellent argument against Anthony Bourdain’s big fat mouth, why high-fat diets probably don’t cause type 2 diabetes, and a couple of unconventional ways to treat depression.

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 | Jun 10, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

All in all, today’s links are really depressing. Industrial food will be the death of us. Luckily Stephen Colbert is around to make it funny.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links at 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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Healthy Vegetarian & Vegan Diets – Episode #4 – Summer Tomato Live [video]

by | Apr 6, 2011

Thanks to those of you who participated in episode #4 about healthy vegetarian & vegan diets. I learned a lot while researching this post, and there’s valuable info on omega-3 fatty acids, essential minerals and other nutrition information that’s important for omnivores as well.

All show notes, including my annotated Kindle notes of Amazon’s most popular vegetarian nutrition book (I’m not a fan) are below. Everyone should at least skim through them, there’s a lot of great information/clarification in there.

Episode #5, Dairy: Friend or Foe? is airing on Monday, April 11 at 6:30pm PST. Does milk help or hurt your chances or getting osteoporosis? Does calcium cause prostate cancer? What’s the role of milk in acne? What about raw milk, is it really the holy grail? Join us on Monday to learn the answers.

______________________________________________________

March 29, 2011 | Episode #4 of Summer Tomato Live. The topic is healthy vegetarian and vegan diets (with lots of interesting nutrition information for omnivores too).

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

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.

Show notes:

Follow Darya on Kindle

Darya’s Kindle notes on Becoming Vegetarian by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis

Health:

Tools:

I hope to see you there!

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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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Fishing For Answers: How To Choose Fish and Seafood

by | Dec 8, 2010

By sektordua

By sektordua

“This is a request for a Summer Tomato series on fish, and seafood in general. This topic is even more difficult to navigate than organic vs. non-organic and it would be great to learn about it in detail.”

I don’t think there is anything more complicated in the food world than fish and seafood. There are so many life or death issues it’s enough to make you want to close your eyes, plug your ears and live out the rest of your life in a cave on Mars.

But this isn’t really one of those issues we can ignore.

Fish and Your Health

There’s no denying it, fish is good for you.

The latest data I’ve read suggests that vegetarians have more cancer than fish eaters, though both have less cancer than meat eaters. There are also well-documented and significant heart and brain benefits associated with seafood consumption.

Omega-3 fatty acids are usually given the credit for the heart-healthy benefits of fish. The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as well as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are only found in seafood. Vegetarian forms of omega-3s including α-Linolenic acid (ALA) can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is very low and likely insufficient.

Personally I think healthy eating is a lot more difficult if you do not eat fish. (Please direct mild-tempered disagreements to the comments below). Yes, you can be healthy if you are vegetarian or vegan, but it is much more work in my opinion.

The fish and health issue seems to be even more important (and more complicated) for pregnant women. Children of mothers who eat less seafood during pregnancy score lower on cognitive tests than those whose mothers ate the most fish. But at the same time, mercury contamination is a serious concern for pregnant women that requires special attention. Mercury is toxic to neurodevelopment and can injure a developing fetus.

Mercury contamination has in fact become so common that regular, non-pregnant consumers also need to be concerned. Recent testing in New York City revealed that most of the top sushi restaurants serve fish that exceeds the FDA safety recommendations for mercury.

Another health and fish issue is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These things are all sorts of bad for you. I’ve written extensively on mercury and PCB contamination in fish over at Synapse.

For more on omega-3s, mercury, PCBs and the whole mess, Marion Nestle’s What To Eat is a good resource.

For health, the basic guidelines I follow include:

  • Eat fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Avoid large fish that accumulate mercury like tuna, shark and swordfish.
  • Avoid farmed fish that contain PCBs.
  • Seek fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
  • Avoid fresh water fish caught by friends. Lakes and rivers are almost all contaminated with high mercury levels.
  • Enjoy vegetarian omega-3 fatty acid sources such as walnuts, flax and soy.

I don’t take omega-3 supplements, but it is an alternative if you do not eat enough fish. Be sure to get supplements derived from marine sources (and don’t take them before interacting with other humans–icky burps).

All that, and we haven’t even touched on the environmental sustainability issues yet.

*deep breath*

*exhale*

Ok.

Fish and the Environment

I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I am NOT EVEN ALMOST an expert in this stuff. I read about it sometimes and keep up with the basics, but environmental issues aren’t my expertise.

That being said, it is not clear that anyone understands the true damage that the fishing industry is doing to either the environment or the future of the fishing industry. The outlook is not good, but it does seem that there are a few groups that are aware of the problems and taking actions to improve the situation.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the group I trust most in these matters, recently issued The State of Seafood Report if you’d like to read more.

New York Times food writer and author of Fish: The Complete Guide To Buying and Cooking, Mark Bittman, chimed in on the issue a few months ago in an article explaining the nearly impossible task of choosing fish these days.

To make matters worse, a new report suggests that many eco-friendly fish labels aren’t exactly accurate.

It’s difficult to say how to handle seafood sustainability and I certainly do not have all the answers, but I’ll tell you what I do.

Things I consider when buying and eating fish for sustainability:

  • Buy from trusted sources. Since I personally cannot keep up on all the fish sustainability issues, I am sure to shop at places that do. Most small, high-end seafood vendors in San Francisco do a good job of at least telling you where their fish comes from, and will often include sustainability labels.
  • Shop at Whole Foods. Though they aren’t perfect, Whole Foods does a great job of labeling the origin of their animal products. This is leaps and bounds over most grocery stores.
  • Eat wild Alaskan salmon. The Alaskan fishing regulations are mostly sustainable. I’ve heard this challenged, but Alaskan is still superior to Atlantic or farmed salmon. Did you know that all farmed salmon is dyed pink? Eeeew.
  • Eat sardines. These little guys are sustainable, healthy and delicious. I prefer fresh sardines, but I even enjoy the boneless skinless sardines from cans. Pair with dry-as-a-bone white wine. Yum yum.
  • Never, ever eat bluefin tuna. These magnificent animals are on the verge of extinction. Don’t do it!
  • Eat fish at responsible restaurants. In SF, many of the high-end restaurants proudly label the origin of their fish on the menu. This is not always true, however, especially in Japanese restaurants. Nobu in Manhattan is still serving bluefin tuna.
  • Never shop at Asian fish markets. Cheap fish = bad news. Sorry. I know a lot of people rely on these, but personally I do not trust them. Many of the fish sold at these stores are shipped in from China (if they deny it they are likely lying to you). Remember when China was putting poison in baby formula? Don’t assume the fish from there is either safe or sustainable.
  • Avoid tuna. Do you still order maguro (tuna) at sushi restaurants? How boring and unethical. Try getting something that you’ve never heard of that may be less likely to be over-fished. And don’t be afraid to ask where it came from.
  • Ask the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When in doubt, visit their Super Green List for the best seafood choices at the moment.

Shellfish

Interestingly, shellfish are common on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s best choices list. The reason for this is that many kinds of shellfish can be farmed sustainably with very little environmental impact. This is good news, but doesn’t make shellfish a perfect choice.

Oysters, scallops and shrimp are still among the most common sources of food poisoning in the U.S. every year. Oysters alone are responsible for 15 deaths annually. That means your sources for these items are just as important as they are for any other fish, but mostly for your own protection.

The biggest issue is usually refrigeration (but it is not always), so your best bet is to go with trusted sources that are not likely to skimp on costs and resources. Better yet, buy them live and prepare them yourself.

Taste and Other Adventures

As important as all these issues are, the dominant thought in the back of my mind is always: I love seafood, can I have some?

And yes, sometimes this thought wins out over health, environment and sustainability. But I really do try to do the right thing as often as possible, because I want to continue enjoying seafood for many, many more years.

It is not uncommon to hear these days that we could lose our fishing industries within my lifetime, and no one wants that.

No matter how much we want to deny these issues, they effect us all. Even vegetarians have an interest in preserving the oceans and wild fish populations, since entire ecosystems are dependent upon them.

This is one place where we all need to do our part and be conscientious consumers.

Please share your thoughts, this stuff is complicated!

Originally published November 4, 2009.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Nov 12, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

Next week I’ll be celebrating my 31st birthday. If you appreciate the work I do for this site and would like to give back, I’m donating all cakes, presents and well wishes to Charity Water. Charity Water helps bring clean water to children and families in Africa who desperately need it. Follow the link to learn more.

http://mycharitywater.org/darya

How to make food taste better without cooking skills, the best geek food article of all time and why Twinkie’s won’t make your life better.

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 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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6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

by | Apr 28, 2010
sardines

Photo by rockyeda

I’m happy to introduce my friend and fellow sardine lover, Benjy Weinberger. Neither of us were particularly happy about the recent news of the last US sardine cannery closing, so I invited Benjy here to defend the honor of one of my favorite sea creatures.

Benjy Weinberger has been eating food for over 30 years, and has held strong opinions for almost as long.

Read his personal blog: http://jamknife.blogspot.com/
Follow him on Twitter: @benjyw

Yes, We Can! Why We Should Be Eating More Sardines

The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned.
- John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

A few days ago we were told the last sardine cannery in the US closed its doors for good. A symbol, so the story goes, of how far sardines–once a staple of working-class pantries across the nation–have fallen out of favor with the American palate.

But if you get past the bad “last sardine factory canned” puns, this narrative starts to seem, ahem, fishy. Because, in fact, the sardine is like Bad Company, alive, well and making a comeback.

Fresh sardines are showing up on menus in restaurants from San Francisco to New York. Your local supermarket still offers plenty of canned sardine choices, albeit imported. In Monterey, California, where Steinbeck romanticized the sardine industry in Cannery Row, a group of self-styled “Sardinistas” is working to return the sardine to its rightful place in the American diet. Meanwhile, nearby, small-scale gourmet canning operations have resumed. So it seems the supposed death of the sardine industry has been exaggerated.

So what are sardines, exactly? The term means slightly different things in different countries, but in the US it denotes any of several species of small, oily, silvery fish related to herring.

What all types of sardine have in common is that we should be eating a lot more of them.

6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

1. They’re good for you.

Sardines pack an awesome nutritional punch. A single serving has around 23 grams of protein and is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and potassium, and only 200 calories. And even with canned sardines, all this goodness comes with only around 400 mg of sodium, which is relatively little for a canned product. Plus, they’re often packed in olive oil, itself an important component of a healthy diet.

2. They aren’t bad for you.

Sardines are low on the oceanic food chain, and therefore contain low amounts of mercury, PCBs and the other toxins that accumulate in longer-living marine predators such as salmon and tuna. This makes them a particularly good choice for children and pregnant women.

3. They’re sustainably fished.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWATCH rates sardines as a “Best Choice”. Sardine stocks are, once again, abundant, healthy and are now well-managed.

4. They’re affordable.

Prices per oz. of canned sardines are on a par with canned tuna, poultry, ground beef and other supermarket protein sources. Prices of fresh sardines vary with availability, but they are usually among the less expensive fresh fish on display.

5. They taste like fish.

In a supermarket landscape dominated by bland, artificially dyed salmon fillets, pale tuna steaks, frozen fish sticks, artificial crab meat and other attempts to sell seafood as generic chicken-like protein slabs to people who aren’t sure if they actually like it, sardines stand out. You simply can’t ignore the fact that they are, well, fish. They look like fish, being too small to fillet or grind up. They smell like fish. They are oily. They have heads and tails, scales and bones. And they taste fishy.

This is, as most people who genuinely enjoy food know, a good thing.

6. They’re delicious.

This is ultimately the most important point in favor of consuming more sardines: they are a pleasure to eat. Simple, easy to prepare and downright delicious.

If you get your hands on some fresh sardines, they feature in fabulous recipes originating from all over the Mediterranean basin. But sardines are so simple and basic, you really don’t need a recipe to get the best out of them. Just scale and gut them, brush them lightly with olive oil and coarse sea salt, or whatever marinade you make up, grill them for around 5 minutes per side, until the skin is crispy, and serve them up with a drizzle of lemon juice and your favorite fresh herbs.

And if you can’t be fussed to cook, there are few pleasures greater than mashing canned sardines, bones and all, onto buttered toast, or perhaps over a slice of camembert.

The sardine is dead. Long live the sardine!

What are your favorite sardine recipes?

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For The Love of Food

by | Nov 6, 2009
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.

We’ve had spectacular conversations on both posts from this week (Orthorexia, Bacon Worship And The Power of Food Culture and Fishing For Answers: How To Choose Fish and Seafood), thank you all for your thoughtful contributions.

Essential reading for today includes the New York Times examination of meat and sustainability. Sadly, 2 people have died and dozens were sickened this week (again) because of an E. coli outbreak from industrial beef. If you’re wondering why this keeps happening, check out the article about how these poor cows are fed chicken poop. Seriously. Also, Europe steps up to shut down health claims about probiotics, and Cynthia Kenyon gives us one more reason sugar is evil.

I still need votes for the People’s HealthBlogger Award by Wellsphere and would greatly appreciate your support. Wellsphere is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in healthy living. To vote for me you have to create an account with them, but you can delete it when you’re done (I have yet to get any spam). If you enjoy this blog, please take a minute to show your support. Much thanks to those who have already voted.


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).

For The Love of Food

  • The Carnivore’s Dilemma <<Exceptional article on the issue of meat eating and sustainability. It’s more complicated than you think. Now could you pass the bacon? (New York Times)
  • 7 Food Groups That Will Help Boost Your Mood <<Not sure about how much science rests behind these recommendations, but they are all healthy foods and if they help with mood too, woohoo! (Dumb Little Man)
  • The Omega-3 Battle: Which Margarine Is Healthier? <<Don’t eat margarine. However, since we discussed the health benefits of fish and omega-3 fatty acids this week, you might be interested in reading up on the debate going on in Europe right now. (Time)
  • Grain Relapse <<B.S. of the week People who follow the primal/paleo lifestyle adhere to a diet of only meat and vegetables, refraining entirely from grains and legumes in any form. Though it is hard to find health flaws in a diet like this, I have a lot of trouble understanding the purpose of this much dietary restriction–it eliminates virtually every cuisine on the planet. Mark Sisson argues there is no reason to eat grains at all, but does this much dogma really make your life better? In my experience, small amounts of grains (preferably intact) make existence a whole lot more enjoyable. I also feel better and weigh less. (Mark’s Daily Apple)
  • The Claim: A Person Can Pay Off a Sleep Debt by Sleeping Late on Weekends <<It takes longer than you think to make up for lost sleep, and it costs you in both physical and cognitive performance. Do yourself a favor and make sleep a priority. (New York Times)
  • Sugar Negates Worm’s Life-Extending Mutation <<Sugar won’t just make you fat, it also slowly kills you. Seriously, if you’re going to bother with sugar make sure whatever you’re eating is worth it. (Scientific American)
  • Europe rejects droves of health claims <<Although I’m proud of the FDA for essentially shutting down the Smart Choices campaign, Europe has always been better about making sure health claims on food labels actually mean something. This week they called bullshit on hundreds :) (Food Politics)
  • From The “Who Knew?” File: Cattle Commonly Fed Chicken Poop <<Can anyone name a way that industrial beef isn’t completely and utterly nauseating? I love a good piece of meat, but not when it was grown on chicken poop. Did I mention at least 2 people died this week because of a new E.coli outbreak from beef? So gross. (Treehugger, Marler Blog)
  • Phys Ed: Why Doesn’t Exercise Lead to Weight Loss? <<Exercise is good for you, but it is nearly impossible to experience meaningful weight loss without dietary changes. Exercise is more beneficial for weight maintenance. A new study helps illuminate why. (Well Blog)
  • How to Poach Pears <<I have never tried poaching pears, but now I want to. This recipe looks relatively easy, delicious and healthy. A perfect fall dessert. (David Lebovitz)

What awesomeness are you reading?

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Vegetables, Nuts and Overall Healthy Diet Protect Against Heart Disease

by | Apr 20, 2009
Vegetables

Vegetables

Most scientists agree that diet plays an important role in heart disease, but until now there has been no comprehensive analysis of which dietary factors most strongly affect disease outcome. A new meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reviews six decades of research (1950-2007) to assess how different dietary factors affect heart disease. Vegetables, nuts, “Mediterranean” and high-quality dietary patterns are strongly protective, while trans-fat, foods with high glycemic index or load and a “Western” dietary pattern were shown to be harmful.

The Study

This new study is unique for several reasons. First, the authors were only interested in factors that influenced heart disease directly, not simply heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol levels. Also, emphasis was placed on high-quality studies designed to identify strong dietary associations (cohort studies and randomized controlled trials) with long periods of follow up (at least one year). They asked whether the studies they reviewed were consistent with other data such as epidemiological reports, and sought to establish a causal link between diet and heart disease outcomes. Another important goal of the analysis was to identify factors that lack sufficient evidence to be conclusive and require further research.

Results

In addition to identifying vegetables, nuts, high-quality and Mediterranean dietary patterns as being strongly protective against heart disease, they also found monounsaturated fats (e.g. olive oil), dietary folate (e.g. whole grains, not supplements), dietary vitamins C and E (not supplements), alcohol consumption (in any form) and omega-3 fatty acids from fish (not plants, e.g. flax) to be moderately protective.

Factors that were not associated with heart disease in this study were dietary supplements (e.g. vitamins C and E), total fat, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats (from plants), meat, eggs and milk. It is important to note, however, that negative findings in this analysis are not necessarily indicative of a lack of causality. Rather, it may indicate insufficient data to observe a significant positive association.

Dietary Patterns

The authors point out that “only overall healthy dietary patterns are significantly associated with coronary heart disease” in the controlled trials, while “evidence for most individual nutrients or foods is too modest to be conclusive.” They suggest that the reason an association exists for dietary patterns and not individual nutrients is that patterns “have the advantage of taking into account the complex interactions and cumulative effects of multiple nutrients within the entire diet.” The authors recommend future trials test various dietary patterns for disease outcome, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Taking this further, most dietary factors that were shown to be protective when consumed as part of a healthy diet were not protective when taken in supplement form. This finding bolsters the argument that overall diet rather than individual foods or nutrients are the best strategy for protecting against heart disease. The authors conclude that their findings suggest “investigating dietary patterns in cohort studies and randomized controlled trials for common and complex chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease.”

Based on their analysis, the dietary pattern that best protects against heart disease is rich in vegetables, nuts, fish, healthy fats, whole grains, and fruit. Likewise, the worst dietary pattern consists of refined carbohydrates and artificial trans-fats. The lesson: the best diet consists of plants, fish and whole foods, while processed foods contribute to heart disease.

What about red meat and saturated fats?

Interestingly, there was insufficient data to conclude that red meat or saturated fats are harmful for the heart. This is not terribly surprising, since the data has always been inconsistent. However, I would point out that many studies have looked at the role of red meat and saturated fat in coronary risk and the outcome always shows either harm or no result. And as explained above, no result can be indicative of a lack of statistical power rather than lack of causation. Importantly however, I cannot recall a single study suggesting that red meat and saturated fat is actually good for you.

From this the best we can conclude is that red meat or saturated fat may be involved in promoting heart disease, but if they are the effect is likely to be less harmful than a diet of processed foods. Practically this means small doses of saturated fat may not do much harm when eaten as a part of an overall healthy diet. This is a fairly compelling argument for exercising moderation.

Conclusions

Before you run out and order a ribeye, keep in mind that heart disease is not the only debilitating chronic disease that plagues our culture. Red meat is also associated with several kinds of cancer. Likewise, refined carbohydrates are highly correlated with type 2 diabetes. Vegetables and whole grains are protective against these other diseases as well, and fish may play a role in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases.

The take home lesson is that both diet and disease are complex systems that involve innumerable factors in several different regions of the body. When choosing what to eat it is important that you consider the context of your overall diet and do not get caught up is single foods or a single disease threat.

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How To Get Started Eating Healthy: Balanced Meals

by | Apr 17, 2009
Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Collards, Carrots and Lentils

Once you have everything you need to cook healthy meals, you are well on your way to a better healthstyle. But first let’s stop and make sure we know what a healthy meal looks like.

(This post is part five 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 and part four is Stock Your Freezer. The recipe pictured is posted here.)

My goal here at Summer Tomato is to help you permanently adopt healthy eating patterns. Why? Because short-term weight loss diets, “cleansing” diets and ignoring your health completely will never do you any good. In contrast, healthy eating habits can add years and in some cases decades of high-quality time to your life.

I am not being sensationalist. The data is very convincing that your eating habits are the most important factor in your long-term health.

For many people the first big step in getting healthy is losing weight, and this means eating better and eating less. But my advice is generally the same (with a few exceptions) if you are not overweight. Healthy eating is the same for everyone–eating for fat loss and eating for health and longevity are the same thing.

How can you permanently eat better?

You cannot expect to let yourself go hungry and stick to that eating plan forever. It is therefore critical that you get the most out of your meals by making sure they have enough nutrients and flavor to keep you satisfied. I would go so far as to say you should love the food you eat and should walk away from it not wanting another bite. With balanced meals and wonderful ingredients, you can feel this way about what you eat.

Your body needs many things to function properly. It runs on complex carbohydrates, vitamins, fats, fibers, minerals, proteins and probably many more things we have not yet discovered. If you follow some trendy diet that encourages you to eliminate one or more of these, your body will feel deprived and ultimately find a way to get what it wants (usually in binge form). So let’s forget the starvation option and instead choose foods that give us all the nutrients we need. What we will reduce (not eliminate) are foods with fewer nutrients, the ones your body can be happy without. These foods will be addressed in a future post.

The best strategy is to give yourself a steady supply of what your body needs throughout the day. Every day. And because scientists have been unable to replicate a healthy diet with a pill, we need to focus on eating food. Real food. The kind that comes from the earth, not from a drive-thru.

The following is a guide to creating a perfect, healthy meal from food. It is only meant to be a blueprint, not a rigid plan. But I feel it is important to spell this out at the beginning because it is so different from how most people eat. I can assure you that it is very doable and more than satisfying. I eat this way, and I can say without hesitation that food is my favorite part of my day.

Eat Your Vegetables

Size Matters

As I alluded to in my post on seasonal shopping, the bulk of your diet must be vegetables if you hope to permanently lose weight and avoid heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. The science is very clear on this point. If you do not like vegetables, I suggest you try and learn to like them. Chances are you have not eaten many high-quality vegetables from your local farmers market or that the ones you have tried were not prepared very well. Keep trying! Explore different recipes. Try different vegetables at high-end restaurants. Go out of your way to find vegetables cooked a way you like.

Here are some tips on learning to love foods you don’t like.

I recommend finding a friend who loves to cook and inviting him or her to explore your local market together–the enthusiasm of a chef at a farmers market can be contagious! You could even volunteer to help make a meal afterward with the fresh ingredients you found. It is amazing how quickly a kitchen becomes demystified when you spend a little time in one. Start with simple recipes. Delicious food does not have to be complicated if you cook with wonderful ingredients.

To reiterate, your first task is to increase your vegetable intake. Aim for about half of your (medium-sized) plate to be covered in vegetables. Make this happen for both lunch and dinner. If for whatever reason your choice of meal makes this difficult, try to get at least some green on your plate. Adding kale or spinach to whatever you’re making is usually pretty easy.

Diversify

You also want to try to get as much diversity as you can in the types of vegetables you eat. If you have seen those obnoxious lists of “superfoods,” you may have started to realize that any fruit or vegetable can be considered super. The fact is that all vegetables have some unique benefit and you maximize your health by eating many kinds of them, not by eating a lot of one kind. I try to mix up my weekly shopping cart to reflect the diversity of the farmers market, and I usually try to buy something I have never eaten before.

One wonderful thing about seasonal shopping at your local farmers market is that vegetables and fruits come and go pretty quickly, so diversity comes with the territory.

Smart Protein

I mentioned above that it is important to feel satisfied by your meals, and protein can go a long way in helping you achieve this. However, there are many misconceptions about protein, particularly regarding how much and what kinds you should eat.

I’ll start by saying that virtually no one in the Western world is protein deficient. It is relatively easy to get the protein your body needs to maintain its muscle mass. I do not recommend counting protein grams unless you are a professional body builder, in which case this probably isn’t the best website for you.

Despite what some people may say, many vegetables and grains contain protein. For instance, a cup of brown rice has 5 grams of protein. A cup of black beans has 15 grams of protein (and 20% of your daily iron). Some will argue that these are not “quality” sources of protein because they are not “complete proteins,” meaning that they are lacking in some essential amino acid. However, this argument is irrelevant if you follow my advice above and enjoy diversity in your diet. Yes, if all your protein comes from brown rice then you may be deficient in lysine, but presumably you are eating more than just brown rice and the rest of your food will easily make up the difference.

Getting all your protein is important, but since it is relatively easy to get I find the biggest value of protein is helping you feel satisfied after a meal. Protein digests more slowly than carbohydrates and can help you feel full longer. From this perspective, it matters very little where your protein comes from.

Personally I try to get my protein from beans, eggs or fish, because they offer more than just protein. Beans are a great source of fiber and iron. Eggs are a perfect size and are rich in vitamins. Fish has wonderful oils that have been shown to protect your heart and brain.

I’m fairly neutral on poultry and red meat in reasonable quantities.

Intact Grains

Despite what disciples of Dr. Atkins may say about carbohydrates (a lot of which I agree with), intact whole grains are essential to a healthy diet. Unfortunately, real whole grains are not very easy to come by in our culture. I have explained before, there is a tremendous difference between an intact whole grain that still looks like a grain and the “whole grains” in Lucky Charms that have been mutilated then reassembled. Real, intact grains digest slowly and are an essential source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other wonderful things.

Like protein, whole grains should comprise about a quarter of your plate. However, since whole grains are rather difficult to get, I usually choose to make intact grains the bulk of my breakfast, and usually incorporate other grains such as brown rice or quinoa into either lunch or dinner. These will also go a long way to increase the satisfaction you feel from a meal.

Healthy Fats

One of the reasons the low fat diet from the 20th century failed so miserably is that it did not account for the necessity of healthy fats. Oils from plants and fish are critical for protecting against disease. And, like protein and grains, they contribute greatly to how satisfying your meal is.

Because fats have a high caloric density, a little really goes a long way and there is no definitive space on your plate that I allot to them. However, generally I recommend dressing or cooking all your vegetables in minimally processed oil, such as cold-pressed olive oil. I also recommend cooking with nuts (many different kinds, of course) regularly and enjoying avocado and other oily plants frequently.

Fish provide a different kind of oil than plants, and both are important. But if you are eating substantial amounts of fish you should be aware of the dangers of mercury contamination.

Conclusion

Strive to eat a diverse array of fresh vegetables, healthy proteins, intact grains and plant and fish oils as a part of your daily healthstyle, particularly in the meals you have control over. However, this is not something you should approach as all-or-none. Any meal can be made more healthy by adding these ingredients, and it is worth it to work them in if possible.

But most important, be sure that whatever you eat you enjoy. None of this is “diet food” and all of it should make you happy.

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My goal here at Summer Tomato is to help you permanently adopt healthy eating patterns.
Why? Because short‐term weight loss diets, “cleansing” diets and ignoring your health
completely will never do you any good. In contrast, healthy eating habits can add years and
in some cases decades of high‐quality time to your life.
I am not being sensationalist. The data is very convincing that your eating habits are the
most important factor in your long‐term health.
For many people the first big step in getting healthy is losing weight, and this means eating
better and eating less. But my advice is generally the same (with a few exceptions) if you are
not overweight. Healthy eating is the same for everyone–eating for fat loss and eating for
health and longevity are the same thing.
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