For the Love of Food

by | Mar 21, 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 saturated fat is exonerated (again), a simple trick to motivate yourself to exercise, and how dad’s diet affects baby’s health.

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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Top 10 Most Underrated Health Foods

by | Mar 5, 2014

Photo by Michael Hodge

We already know that food manufacturers and the media tend to exaggerate the benefits of popular health foods, but what about all the wonderfully healthy foods they ignore?

It’s time to shine the spotlight on 10 of my favorite healthy foods that never get the attention they deserve.
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How Butter and Real Food Saved My Health

by | Apr 11, 2012

Photo by Robert S. Donovan

Huge thanks to Emilia for sharing her story. I think she brings a very important message about the value of nutrition and the importance of trying different things until you find the diet that works best for you.

While Emilia found that more fat was necessary for her optimal health (as did I), keep in mind that some people thrive best on a diet with less fat. Humans vary substantially in their genetic background, so you can’t assume that what works for someone else will work for you. Experimenting with your healthstyle is the only way to figure it out.

Emilia has a certification in holistic nutrition from Bauman College and has worked in community health education.

How Butter and Real Food Saved My Health

by Emilia

Hello Summer Tomato Readers,

My name is Emilia and I’m hugely honoured to be guest posting on Summer Tomato. I have been a big fan of Summer Tomato since the beginning and I love Darya’s clear explanations and refusal to accept cliche. Most of all though I love her ‘healthstyle’ message and I wish I’d found a resource like Summer Tomato, back when I began dieting.

My unhealthy experience with dieting came after University when I decided I wanted to lose a few vanity pounds. I looked to various women’s magazines for guidance, and soon came up with a diet that was low in calories and very low in fat. It centered around salad without dressing, fruit, fat-free yogurt and muffins, scrambled egg whites and a small amount of seeds and fish. I lost weight quickly and was thrilled.

The problem was that not only did I lose weight, but I also developed other problems. These included extreme anxiety, irrational behavior if food was late and incredibly low immunity. People who knew me joked that I got sick an awful lot for the healthiest eater they knew. The worst symptom however was that my hormones became completely off balance. To put it bluntly, I barely menstruated for four years.

During this time I sought lots of medical advice about the problem. It was assumed to be a temporary result of my weight loss. After that many doctors made the diagnosis of polycystic ovaries, despite the fact that none were evident in scans. Since I wasn’t (quite) technically underweight, lifestyle factors were barely considered. The only advice some doctors gave me was to gain weight, exercise less or eat more protein. I did all of these dutifully, without result.

The transformational moment came after Christmas one year. I spend Christmas with my husband’s family who eat a very traditional British diet: fresh meat from local farms and homegrown vegetables. Everything is cooked in copious amounts of butter, but served in small portions. The only consistent time my cycles would re-start was after Christmas, despite the fact that my weight and exercise habits didn’t change. Since I was eating meat at home regularly by then (albeit grilled chicken breasts), I began to wonder if there was something unique about eating a diet high in both saturated fat and protein that helped me.

I began to study Nourishing Traditions and the Paleo diet, and started to (very loosely) incorporate some of the principles. I chose to first focus on including more saturated fat in my diet: butter, full fat milk and yogurt, whole eggs and fattier cuts of meat. I also refused to see fat as a negotiable, and stopped skimping on butter in my cooking so I could have a cookie later.

Second, I started to ensure I was getting some good protein at every meal. Meat or fish once per day, plenty of nuts, and legumes instead of bread. I also began including more exceptionally nutritious sources of protein like oily fish of all varieties, as well as organ meats like liver and kidney (yes, really!).

Third, I switched my attitude toward food. Instead of trying to eat more food for fewer calories, I started trying to eat moderate amounts of highly nutritious and enjoyable food. Buying smaller portions of vegetables, but getting them from the farmers market. Having the occasional delicious ice cream, instead of a daily frozen yogurt. Pretty much entirely cutting out refined flours, artificial additives and other non-foods. It was, I believe, this third change that was the most important. It was also the hardest since it defies our current societal instruction to seek out the most food or pleasure, for the least calories or money.

After I started eating this way, the improvements to my health were virtually immediate. My anxiety subsided, my moods normalised. Within two months my hormones began to re-stabilize. I am certain the dietary changes were pivotal because any time I reverted to eating less fat and protein, or relying on refined carbohydrates, my problems returned.

It took time to change my eating habits permanently—starting to eat butter can be as hard as stopping—but I am now a devoted and healthy convert. My current healthstyle is enjoyable, sustaining, affordable and supportive of my fertility. It it is also rather like Darya’s weight maintenance recommendations: high in healthy fats served with vegetables, and rich in legumes and good sources of protein; focusing on quality over quantity and resisting redundant ideas about ‘healthy’ packaged foods. Which brings me full circle to my first point.

For me, the impression many doctors gave that my fertility had everything to do with my weight, calorie intake and genetics turned out be far from the truth. I believe that for many people fertility has everything to do with nutrient intake. I am therefore so pleased there are rational websites like Summer Tomato that can help spread the message.

Thanks so much for allowing me to tell my story Darya!

How has eating real food helped your health?

 

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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 | May 13, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Some truly fantastic articles this week including new data that farmers markets aren’t as expensive as you think, how to cut calories with a knife, and one of my favorite go-to recipes ever.

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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Office Hours: Sugar Toxicity + The Latest on Saturated Fat & Heart Disease [video]

by | Apr 22, 2011

For those of you who haven’t been following along with the Tomato Slice newsletter, I recently launched a segment called Office Hours where I make myself available to take any questions subscribers may have.

This week I held a special Office Hours to discuss 2 articles from last week’s For The Love Of Food post:

  1. Is Sugar Toxic? by Gary Taubes
  2. The latest scientific consensus on saturated fat and heart disease

Since I had so many questions on these papers, I recorded the session and posted it above.

If you’d like to know more about the sugar article, I also recommend Dr. Lustig’s YouTube video mentioned in the article, as well as his interview this week on KQED which I’ve included below.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments.

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How Healthy Is Deli Meat?

by | Apr 18, 2011

Photo by Daryl Marquardt

People trying to cut calories and refined carbohydrates out of their diet often turn to deli meats as a high protein, low fat alternative. But is this really a good idea?

While refined carbohydrates increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, so do processed meats including sausage, bacon and deli meats. It is unlikely to be the fat (or even the saturated fat) in these products that do the damage, since processed meats are consistently shown to be more dangerous than saturated fat alone.

In fact, what the food manufacturers replace the fat with often ends up being much more risky.

What’s in them?

Take a quick look at the ingredients of a Louis Rich turkey variety pack:

Smoked White Turkey: White Turkey, Water, Salt, Contains less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Garlic Powder.

Smoked Turkey Ham: Turkey Thigh Meat, Water, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

Turkey Bologna: Turkey Ingredients (Mechanically Separated Turkey, Turkey), Water, Modified Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Flavor, Enzyme Modified Skim Milk, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika.

Turkey Cotto Salami: Turkey Ingredients (Turkey, Mechanically Separated Turkey), Water, Turkey Hearts, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Spice, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Garlic Powder, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

What exactly is “flavor”? I’ll let you ponder that one.

These meats are pumped full of starch, sugar, salt, preservatives and other random ingredients. Given the quality of the meat they use (“mechanically separated turkey”?) it’s not hard to understand why. All that added “flavor” is needed to make these products taste like juicy meat again.

The low fat versions are even worse, containing higher amounts sugar and salt to make up for the lack of natural fat flavor.

Why is this bad?

The extra starch and sugar are not good since they are, after all, the processed carbohydrates we want to avoid. However these are still a relatively small contribution to total calories. The bigger issues with processed meats are the added sodium and preservatives.

Processed meats have been associated with increased risk of several cancers, particularly those of the digestive system. It has been suggested that the presence of nitrates and nitrates used in the preservation methods are a potential cause, however the data remains inconclusive. Confusing the matter further is that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates in the human diet and some have suggested that in this context they may be a beneficial nutrient.

Heart disease has also been clearly associated with consumption of processed meat, though the reason for the connection is still unknown.

Then there’s the issue of quality. There are a lot of questionable ingredients in highly-processed deli meats like these from Louis Rich. It is unclear if the health risks are the same whether the meats are cured and preserved with high-quality ingredients (charcuterie vs. standard deli meat) or when the meat is preserved without the use of nitrates and nitrites.

What to do

Though it is difficult to point to the exact reason processed meats are dangerous, there is enough evidence associating them with serious health problems to warrant limiting them in your diet. Most of the studies that found associations with processed meats and cancer considered 5 or more servings a week to be a high dose.

To be on the safe side I recommend limiting your intake of processed meats to less than 4 servings per week.

For alternative snack ideas check out Healthy Snacking 101.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Apr 15, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

This is probably the best week of the year so far for food and health writing. Taubes’ provocative piece on sugar and its possible role in cancer is a must read. Also check out the latest consensus on saturated fat, the power of exercise, and the lovely ingredient found in processed ice creams.

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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For The Love Of Food

by | Feb 11, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

If you haven’t yet, please vote at Quirky to help us pick the final look of my farmers market bag. We’re almost done!

Great reading this week about why the case against saturated fat isn’t as strong as you thought, the role of fish in vision maintenance and the importance of childhood nutrition.

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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For The Love of Food

by | Apr 16, 2010

For The Love of Food

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

Tough cuts were made this week. Read about why not liking foods is unnecessary, agave nectar is worse than high-fructose corn syrup and saturated fat is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Oh, and how diets make you gain weight. The list goes on….

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

What did you find worth reading this week?

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