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For the Love of Food

by | Jun 27, 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 Ben & Jerry’s fights the good fight, Cheerios go protein-style, and why you shouldn’t “eat healthy.”

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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10 Tasty Carbs That Won’t Make You Fat

by | Mar 20, 2013

Photo by Denna Jones

We all know the story. Eating carbohydrates causes a spike in blood sugar, which results in a surge of insulin. Insulin shuttles all that extra sugar into your fat cells and you become obese. Over time, your poor helpless organs become resistant to insulin and you develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, thereby shortening your life by 7 years.

All of that is true.

The story is more complicated, however, because all carbs are not created equal.

Read the rest of this story »

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How I Cured My Chronic Insomnia

by | Feb 20, 2013
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

Photo by Alyssa L. Miller

I don’t use the term chronic insomnia lightly. Have you ever heard of a kid who fakes naps during preschool just to placate the teacher? That was me.

Despite my parents letting me stay up to 9-10pm when I was 8-years old—way later than most of my peers (thank you Dad, you rock!)—I inevitably drove them crazy by waking up at the crack of dawn (literally) on weekends ready to kick off the day.

In high school I averaged maybe 5 hours of sleep a night. Even today I rely on the occasional Ambien to make sure I sleep through a flight or get enough rest the night before an important event.

My insomnia is multifaceted. I have trouble falling asleep because I am very sensitive to light (sometimes I joke that I have invisible eyelids). I’m also very sensitive to sounds and have difficulty getting comfortable.

Once I’m asleep, it’s also way too easy to wake me up. And once I wake up, falling back asleep in less than two hours is nearly impossible. I wake up at any hint of light entering the room, or any abnormal noise.

I’ve tried melatonin, tryptophan, St. John’s wort, camomile, kava kava and antihistamines. Most of them just make me extra miserable because I get groggy and drowsy, but still can’t fall asleep. Ambien has been the only prescription sleep aid that works for me without major side effects, but it is not for everyone and I certainly did not want to rely on it for my day-to-day sleep hygiene.

But with a combination of these techniques, I’ve been able to control my insomniac tendencies and boost my sleep to a solid seven hours a night.

9 Tips To Cure Insomnia

1. Get on a consistent sleeping schedule

This one is probably the most important. The circadian rhythms that control your sleep-wake cycle originate in a part of your brain called the hypothalamus (specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus, for you neuroscience geeks).

These neurons are sensitive to light and work to sync your biological clock to regular light-dark hours. The more consistent these are, the stronger your body will respond to natural circadian rhythms and the easier it will be to fall asleep when you’re supposed to.

2. No interactive screen time 1 hour before bed

As mentioned above, bright light can impact your circadian rhythms and staring into a computer screen late into the night can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Working and other mental activity can also keep your mind alert and prevent it from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

I am acutely aware of how difficult it is to unplug when you’re a workaholic, but a good night’s sleep does more for my productivity than I could ever achieve in the 12th or 14th hour of my workday, so I’ve learned to disengage well before bedtime.

Though I haven’t had any problems from watching TV or a movie, it’s best to stay away from any devices that require input from you for the last hour before bed. This means you should turn off the computers, smart phones, video games and tablets, no matter how badly you want to level up. Instead, try to quiet your mind by taking a bath, reading a book, having some herbal tea, cleaning up the house, listening to music or practicing meditation.

3. Don’t eat too late

Eating close to bed time, particularly a high-calorie, heavy meal, is associated with poorer sleep quality. I’ve also noticed this in myself, and when I avoid late night eating I get better, more consistent sleep. If you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water and going to bed on an empty stomach instead. You certainly won’t starve to death.

4. Exercise daily

The best sleep I ever got was when I was marathon training at 5am every weekday before school. I fell asleep like clockwork at 10:30pm every night. It was glorious.

Heavy exercise is certainly a great way to invoke sound sleep, but even moderate activity like walking 10,000 steps each day can make a big difference in sleep quality. If you aren’t sure how much activity you’re getting, a Fitbit pedometer might be a good investment.

5. No caffeine after 1pm

This one was hard for me to believe. I’d been a heavy coffee drinker from a young age, and never thought it affected my sleep one way or another. If I was really tired during finals, coffee never seemed to help much and there were a few times when I fell asleep not too long after having a double espresso.

I’m not sure if I changed or if my sleep cycle was just so messed up that I couldn’t detect relevant differences, but now that I’ve switched to drinking mainly tea I’ve noticed that if I drink any caffeine too late in the day it is harder to fall asleep. I try not to drink coffee after 12pm, but 1pm is sometimes more realistic.

6. Use a white noise machine

My old apartment was just two doors down from a bustling freeway off ramp, and as you can imagine the traffic noise was constant. As someone who is very sensitive to noise, this posed a tremendous problem.

I’ve tried sleeping with ear plugs, but I have small ears and find them very uncomfortable. The solution that works best for me to control noise disturbances is the Sleepmate, a white noise machine that is quiet enough to ignore but drowns out most other ambient noise. This thing is a lifesaver if you’re stuck in a noisy neighborhood.

7. Black out shades or sleep mask

I realized early on that I’m sensitive to even the slightest amount of light in a room, even small ones like a laptop charging light.

If you’ve taken care of all the light sources inside your bedroom but are still bothered by light that sneaks in under the door or through the window, consider getting some black out shades or a sleep mask. The shades work great but can be expensive and kind of ugly. If you go with a mask, I find that the cheaper, less cushy ones are the most comfortable. Mine looks a lot like this one for under $2.

8. Don’t drink too much alcohol

Though a small nightcap can often help me relax and fall asleep faster, too much alcohol is proven to disturb sleep and can cause you to wake up early. If you like to party, keep in mind that it may be impacting your life in more negative ways than you think.

9 . Practice mindfulness

Though light, noise and bad habits all play a role in my sleep problems, I’m convinced that at the root of it all is a wandering mind. These other factors just add levels of distraction to my already overstimulated brain.

In our plugged in world, constant interruptions are making it progressively difficult to keep your attention on a single task long enough to get it done. For me, the nightly task that eludes me is sleep.

Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis (e.g. spending a few seconds a day focusing on my breathing or taking the time to eat a bite of food slowly with my eyes closed) gives me the power to truly relax my mind when I’m trying to fall asleep rather than letting it drift to all the things I need to get done the following day.

Mindfulness isn’t easy, but the only way to get better is through practice. Whenever you’re waiting for an elevator, standing in line, walking up stairs, taking a bite of food, take a few seconds to reflect on where you are and how your body feels. Focus on a few breaths, in and out, and get accustomed to letting go of your worries. The longer you can sustain this practice the easier it will be to let go of your problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What helps you sleep better?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 26, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

This week we learn that probiotics fight colds, raw food limits brain growth, and why longevity may require more than diet and exercise.

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

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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5 Things To Consider Before Eating Something Naughty

by | Sep 17, 2012

Photo by Aldo Fonticiella

Sometimes foods are super unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them.

In my opinion, the purpose of food should be to optimize quality of life. Food is delicious, it makes you healthy and brings you closer to friends and loved ones. At any given meal, I try my best to maximize each of these goals. And if it falls short in one, I try to make it up in another.

Inevitably there are situations where the best option is not particularly obvious. For example, how important is it to eat healthy when you’re on vacation?

Consider dessert. By no stretch of the imagination do you need dessert to live, and if we are being honest with ourselves most of the time we probably shouldn’t eat it. But sometimes (err, often) we want to anyway.

Ideally you should get your healthstyle to a place where you can occasionally go a little wild without it having a significant impact on your health goals. But getting there takes practice and a healthy dose of self awareness.

Here are 5 questions to help you make the right decision before letting loose.

5 Things To Consider Before Eating Something Naughty

1. What else have you eaten today? This week?

To be able to indulge occasionally, you need to understand what “occasionally” really means. Depending on your body size and activity levels, you can get away with maybe one or two treats a week. If you find yourself giving in once or more a day, it may be time to reevaluate your definition of special occasion.

2. Have you been to the gym?

Using the gym to justify a bad diet is a losing battle. But if you do eat a few too many quickly digesting calories, it’s much better that they go to fuel your muscles rather than your waistline. I’ve found that some of my best runs at the gym are on birthday cake days at the office.

3. Will you be drinking later?

Alcohol fuels weight gain in a number of ways. Sugary drinks add hundreds of calories to your day and should be considered an indulgence in their own right. Alcohol also has a way of convincing you to opt for late night burrito runs or greasy morning brunches. If you’re heading out with friends later, you might want to skip the after dinner cheesecake.

4. Are you trying to lose weight?

Believe it or not, asking yourself your health goals before you eat something can really help you make better decisions. I don’t recommend strict diets when you’re finding your healthstyle, but if you still have weight to lose desserts and heavy meals won’t make your life any easier. If you’d still like to drop some pounds, it pays to be picky with your indulgences.

5. Is it worth it? Really?

One of the best things about avoiding diets is you have the freedom to fit your favorite foods into your life. But one of the down sides is that you need to be able to make good choices for yourself, which isn’t always easy. It can be very tempting to consider every cupcake that is brought to the office a special occasion and lose track of the truly valuable indulgences that actually make your life better. Birthdays, anniversaries and great restaurants are things you will remember for your entire life. Junk food at the office is rarely more than an excuse to avoid work for another half hour. Be honest with yourself about the true value of a food before inviting it into your life.

What helps you make quality food choices?

Originally published September 20, 2010.

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How to raise your HDL cholesterol

by | Aug 29, 2012
Olive Oil

Olive Oil

You’ve probably heard it is important to keep your cholesterol levels low, but if you want to protect yourself against heart disease you may be barking up the wrong tree.

Total cholesterol is actually a fairly poor predictor of heart disease, and LDL  “bad” cholesterol is only slightly better. Instead, the ratio of “good” HDL cholesterol to LDL is the most reliable indicator of cardiovascular health. That means higher HDL is as important (if not more so) than lower LDL for protecting against heart disease and atherosclerosis.

That’s right, you want higher HDL cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol scavenges the blood and removes dangerous cholesterol deposits from the arteries. An HDL level above 60 mg/dL is considered protective against heart disease whereas HDL below 40 mg/dL is a risk, even if your LDL is fairly low.

Last time I had my HDL tested it was above 80 mg/dL.

While drugs like statins are not very effective in raising HDL cholesterol, lifestyle modifications can raise HDL substantially.

10 Ways to raise your HDL cholesterol

  1. Exercise Exercise can substantially increase HDL cholesterol while lowering LDL cholesterol.
  2. Lose weight Weight loss is almost always accompanied by improved cholesterol numbers, including increased HDL.
  3. Don’t smoke Smoking has been shown to lower HDL while raising LDL cholesterol.
  4. Avoid trans fat Processed, trans fats simultaneously raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol, vastly increasing your risk of heart disease (similar to smoking). Margarin, shortening and other fake fats should always be avoided.
  5. Avoid low-fat diets Low-fat diets lower both LDL and HDL cholesterol and are not effective at reducing heart disease.
  6. Eat olive oil and avocados Monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil and avocados raise HDL and lower LDL.
  7. Eat fish Fish (especially fatty fish like salmon and sardines) contain omega-3 fats that raise HDL and lower LDL.
  8. Avoid refined carbohydrates Refined carbohydrates negatively impact HDL and raise LDL (bad news).
  9. Eat whole grains Whole, intact grains contain soluble fiber and niacin, both of which raise HDL and may lower LDL.
  10. Drink alcohol 1-2 drinks per day can be as effective as exercise in raising HDL levels. However too much alcohol raises risk for cancer and addiction.

For more information on cholesterol check out my video Cholesterol Explained.

Are you concerned about HDL? Is your doctor?

Originally published Sept 14, 2009.

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8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

by | Aug 6, 2012

Photo by David Long

I have nothing against people who like to party. Partying is really fun, and a lot of the time I’m right there leading the crusade.

But we all know those people who really like to drink, and like to do it often. Not only do these guys take their own drinking a little too far, they’re experts at pressuring others to keep up with them drink-for-drink. And they’ll use mockery, guilt, generosity, logic, peer pressure and dozens of other tactics to get everyone around them to keep the party going.

These friends are fun to have, until they aren’t. As fun as it is to party, sometimes you want to go out and have a good time without regretting it the next day. Hangovers have their time and place, but when you have real responsibilities it is nice to have a way to hit it a little less hard, preferably without drawing attention to your secret plan.

Feel free to mix and match these tricks, different situations call for different lines of defense.

8 Tips For Drinking Less Without Your Friends Knowing

1. Alternate with water

This is a tried and true way to both cut back on alcohol and stay hydrated, thereby preventing a hangover. Every drink or two, go to the bar and ask for some water. You don’t need to make excuses for this, you’re thirsty and will get another drink in a second. Just be sure to finish the waters and feel free to take your time.

2. Drink clear liquids

Clear liquids like gin and vodka look like melting ice. So if you don’t want to finish every drink that comes your way, you can always leave a little extra in your old glass and no one will notice you aren’t tossing back as many as they are.

3. Order drinks that look like alcohol (but aren’t)

Another advantage of clear liquids. Vodka soda with lime is my favorite go-to drink on late nights, and it’s awesome for several reasons. Besides being easily palatable and sugar free, you also have the option of leaving out the vodka all together. Just order a club soda with lime and ask the bartender to make it look like a cocktail—they’re usually more than happy to comply.

4. Be forgetful

You don’t have to be limited to clear liquids to abandon the occasional half-full glass. Leave your drink on the bar, in the bathroom, on a random table or anywhere it won’t attract attention. That way when someone offers you another, you’re ready.

5. Drink light beer

If you’re a beer drinker and all this clear liquid talk is making you squirm, never fear. There is a huge difference in alcohol content of beers, with light beers coming in around 4% alcohol and some fancy Belgians topping out at over 10%. You do the math.

If you know you’ll have to get through more than you’ve bargaining for, opt for lighter beers. If you’re like me and think Bud Light tastes like donkey pee, go with a Mexican beer like Corona and add a lime. I can drink those all night and barely get a buzz going—and I’m little.

6. Master the shot spit

Drinking nights often don’t turn crazy until someone starts ordering shots, then it’s all over. Bartenders have this problem too, since drunk people often think they’ve found a new best friend and gratefully buy their server shots throughout the night. To avoid getting hammered on the job, bartenders keep a half empty pint of beer nearby and pretend to use it as a chaser but really spit shots back into it.

If you know your friends are likely to “surprise” everyone with shots be sure to have a nearby water glass or pint that you’re nursing. Use the old bartenders’ trick and no one will suspect. I know it’s gross, but it works. Just remember to not actually drink the beer later.

7. Show up late

Sometimes special occasions are specifically set aside for excessive drinking. If you need to make an appearance but would rather not sacrifice your liver, show up 45-60 minutes late. Everyone will already be one drink ahead of you.

8. Order half shots

If you’re in charge of ordering your own drinks and vodka soda isn’t your thing, ask for your regular cocktail but request a half shot instead of the normal full. You’ll still get the fun of drinking, but each drink will contribute less to tomorrow’s headache.

What are your favorite tricks for drinking less without your friends knowing?

Originally published June 29, 2011.

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Is Drinking Alcohol Healthy Or Dangerous?

by | Jul 23, 2012
Rocket Bar Wine

Photo by Mr. T in DC

“I’ve always wondered what the scientific perspective of alcohol consumption is. I have been doing some research but the actual effects of it on the body range from beneficial to cancerous.”

The clinical science on alcohol consumption is vast and diverse. It’s easy to find studies that demonstrate the benefits of alcohol, but it is equally common to find research showing its dangers. Sorting through the data is not trivial, and getting the right answer from news reports is virtually impossible.

Let’s start with the facts:

1. Alcohol is addictive

Alcohol addiction is one of the most well-understood and dangerous risks of drinking. A propensity for addiction can run in families, but can affect anyone who drinks in excess. None of the health benefits of alcohol can negate the destruction caused by addiction, and anyone who drinks should be careful to avoid this terrible condition.

2. Alcohol damages the liver

Alcohol metabolism occurs in the liver and can cause severe damage when consumed in large quantities. Liver damage can usually be reversed if alcohol consumption stops.

3. Alcohol is associated with breast cancer (sort of)

Drinking is weakly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. This is likely because alcohol increases aromatase activity in the human body, which increases estrogen production. Estrogen imbalance is a known cause of breast cancer. However, the association between drinking and breast cancer is negated by sufficient folate intake. Folate or folic acid is a B vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and legumes (and fortified foods). In other words, a healthy diet protects against alcohol induced breast cancer risk.

4. Alcohol protects against mortality from heart disease

Drinking alcohol reduces your risk of dying from a heart attack by preventing blood clotting. This effect is not limited to red wine, all spirits elicit substantial protection. The association appears to be dose-dependent, meaning that the more you drink the more protection you get. HOWEVER, you start raising your risk for the above mentioned problems with every additional drink per day. For men the ideal dosage is 2 drinks per day, for women it is 1 drink per day.

5. Alcohol raises good HDL cholesterol

Moderate drinking also reduces your risk of getting heart disease in the first place by raising beneficial HDL cholesterol without raising LDL cholesterol. Low HDL is a serious problem in America, and alcohol could be a significant benefit for some people. Here are other ways to raise your HDL cholesterol.

6. Red wine may slow aging

Aging research has been revolutionized by the discovery of a compound in red wine called resveratrol. Resveratrol has been shown to slow aging substantially in several model organisms. Though the effect in humans is still unknown, red wine is associated with many benefits that seem to go above and beyond the benefits of alcohol in general.

7. Red wine may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Several studies have shown that red wine is associated with a decreased risk for Alzheimer’s Dementia, a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects 1 in 4 people over the age of 90. The mechanism of action is unclear, but the benefits may be linked to the effect of red wine on fatty acids in the blood (raising the good stuff), or by slowing the aging process itself.

8. Alcohol causes accidents and behavioral problems

Even relatively safe levels of drinking can be deadly when combined with poor decision making. If you do choose to drink alcohol, always be sure that you’re in a safe environment and can get help if you need it. Being safe sometimes, or even usually, is simply not good enough.

There are plenty of good reasons to avoid alcohol if you choose, and many of the benefits can be garnered by simply increasing the amount or intensity of your daily physical activity.

However, the evidence is pretty clear that moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks per day) can improve health and may be an important component of a healthy lifestyle. This is even true for those who pick up the habit later in life.

And last but certainly not least, some of the best times of my life have been over a drink with friends. And I guarantee you most of us aren’t thinking about our heart health while enjoying a great bottle of wine. As long as you consider safety first, never forget that smiling is one of the healthiest things you will ever do.

Here’s a fun question: what’s your favorite drink??

Originally published July 28, 2010.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jan 13, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

I haven’t published a link love round up since before the holidays (I’ve been traveling and then moving, and still don’t have internet at my new home), so I included some great ones here that you might have missed over the past couple weeks. Below I’ve included some wonderful pieces on weight loss and willpower in the Times, a lamesauce ruling by the FDA on antibiotics use in factory farms and a thoughtful editorial on the state of organic farming.

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

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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For The Love Of Food

by | Jan 14, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

I found a stellar collection of thought provoking stories this week. Did you know that the HDL story is more complicated than we originally speculated, even Paleo advocates can acknowledge that how you eat is important and that drinking more can be good for you? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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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