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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Food inspections stall in government shutdown, snack drawers teach kids moderation, and the optimal diet for humans

by | Jan 11, 2019

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

This week food inspections stall in government shutdown, snack drawers teach kids moderation, and the optimal diet for humans.

Next week’s Mindful Meal Challenge will start again on Monday. Sign up now to join us!

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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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10 Common Groceries I Never Buy

by | Mar 7, 2009

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

10 Groceries I Never Buy

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

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