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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Ignorance motivates gluten science, how to build a reliable exercise habit, and how much you need to lose to prevent diabetes

by | May 26, 2017

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

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

This week ignorance motivates gluten science, how to build a reliable exercise habit, and how much you need to lose to prevent diabetes.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: How Big Ag is killing the banana, 15K is the new 10K steps, and what’s missing in the Western diet

by | Mar 24, 2017

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

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

This week how Big Ag is killing the banana, 15K is the new 10K steps, and what’s missing in the Western diet. 

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

I also share links on Twitter @summertomato and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you.

Read the rest of this story »

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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: How to overcome procrastination, a victory for GMO labels, and why you shouldn’t work before 10am

by | Mar 25, 2016
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 how to overcome procrastination, a victory for GMO labels, and why you shouldn’t work before 10am.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

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

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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Emotions are key to weight loss, easy recipes don’t exist, and a link between exercise and beer

by | Dec 4, 2015

Tomato Heart

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

This week emotions are key to weight loss, easy recipes don’t exist, and a link between exercise and beer.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

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

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For the Love of Food

by | Jul 24, 2015
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 butter reverses diabetes, cake is better than bread, and John Oliver crushes food waste.

Too busy to read them all? Try this awesome free speed reading app I just discovered to read at 300+ wpm. So neat!

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

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“Natural” Sugar Substitutes and Artificial Sweeteners: For Better Or For Worse?

by | Jan 21, 2013

Photo by Steve Snodgrass

It’s no secret that I don’t like sugar. But something funny happens every time I recommend people eat less of it: I get bombarded with questions about whether this or that sugar substitute is a good choice.

Sometimes people ask about more natural or “less processed” sweeteners like honey, agave or molasses. Other folks want to know about calorie-free sweeteners like stevia and sucralose (Splenda). But the gist of the question is always the same: what should I eat if I want to have something sweet?

My answer, to many people’s surprise, is to pick whichever one tastes best with what you’re eating (even if it’s plain old cane sugar) and don’t worry about it.

The thing about sugar is no matter what form it comes in, it’s still sugar and is not good for you. Moreover, foods that require sweetening (e.g. pastries) usually have enough other unhealthy ingredients that swapping out the sugar isn’t going to make a huge difference. Sure maybe molasses has a little more vitamin D, or agave ranks a little lower on the glycemic index (because it has more fructose, similar to high-fructose corn syrup), but that doesn’t change the fact that these are still highly concentrated sources of sweetness and should never be eaten in large quantities.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them at all. There’s room for small amounts of sugar in a healthy diet, and it doesn’t matter much where it comes from. Don’t forget to keep everything you eat in perspective. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, then how virtuous would you feel for ruining your grandmother’s famous apple pie recipe by swapping out sugar for Splenda? We all know pie isn’t the healthiest thing in the world, but some experiences have more value than nutrition alone. As long as you don’t choose experiences over health every single day, those occasional indulgences are not going to kill you.

Artificial sweeteners have other problems as well. Despite their lack of calories, evidence shows that people who use non-caloric sweeteners do not weigh any less than people who don’t use them, and there is no evidence that they help with weight loss. People tend to think they are being virtuous if they choose lower-calorie foods over higher-calorie foods. But without an obvious benefit, what is the point exactly?

Lack of effectiveness is not my only issue with artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested that consuming calorie-free sweeteners enhances a person’s appetite and cravings for sweet foods, and this has been proposed as one of the reasons they are not effective at helping people lose weight.

The safety of several of the most popular sugar substitutes has been questioned as well. Though I’ve never found any of the arguments about the dangers of saccharin (Sweet’N Low) or aspartame (Equal) particularly convincing (the original studies were flawed and currently both are officially considered safe for human consumption), they are relatively recent additions to the human diet and the long-term consequences for you as an individual remain unknown. So if you really want to cut back on sugar enough to suffer through the taste of these of these impostors, keep in mind that you are essentially volunteering yourself for a long-term human health experiment that may or may not work out in your favor.

In my opinion still the strongest reason to avoid artificial sweeteners is taste. To me there is something innately unsatisfying about the taste of no-calorie sweeteners, and bad tasting desserts are a paradox of the worst kind. But the assault on your taste buds doesn’t stop there. Artificial sweeteners keep your palate accustomed to overly sweet foods (most are hundreds of times more sweet than table sugar), making it more difficult to re-acclimate to the taste of real food. So not only do artificial sweeteners ruin your dessert experience, they also ruin your healthy eating experience. Awesome, right?

I make one notable exception with these recommendations. Diabetics have a medical condition that prevents them from eating sweet foods that impact blood sugar. This includes cane sugar, honey, agave, molasses, and most other forms of natural sweeteners. The only exception is the stevia plant, which is a natural calorie-free sweetener that has been used therapeutically for hundreds of years. Stevia has been shown in some cases to reduce hyperglycemia and hypertension in patients with pre-existing conditions, and is probably the best option for those who cannot tolerate any kind of caloric sweetener. Because the benefits do not exist for non-diabetic patients and, like other calorie-free sweeteners, stevia is still hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose, I do not recommend it except in these specific clinical conditions.

What’s your sweetness of choice?

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For The Love Of Food

by | May 11, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

A scary new link between BPA and breast cancer, a fascinating new discovery about HDL and how one simple habit can help you live 6 extra years.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomatoGoogle+ 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

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Is Coconut Palm Sugar A Healthy Sugar Substitute?

by | Mar 12, 2012

Photo by Robyn’s Nest

Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes can be very appealing to people looking to cut their calories or control blood sugar, and I get a lot of questions about them. Generally I don’t recommend processed or sweetened foods and encourage people to break free from regular sugar consumption, but I recently discovered coconut palm sugar and decided to look into it.

Coconut palm sugar has garnered attention as being a low-carb sugar substitute that is more nutritious than typical granulated sugar. Because of its complex flavor it is also gaining a reputation in foodie communities, with establishments like the popular Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco switching 100% of its sweeteners over to coconut palm sugar.

Pure coconut palm sugar is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. There are several different varieties of palm (Palmyra, date, etc.), and “coconut palm” specifically refers to the coco nucifera plant.

Most of the “palm sugar” commonly sold in Asian markets is not pure coconut palm sugar but is blended with other fillers such as white cane sugar. Pure certified organic coconut palm sugar is sold under the brand name Sweet Tree in the US, and can be found at some natural food stores.

The information in this article applies only to 100% pure coconut palm sugar. Check your labels carefully.

Pure coconut palm sugar reportedly has a naturally low glycemic index (GI)–a measure of how food impacts blood sugar–which has led some people to claim that it is a valuable sugar substitute for people with diabetes or those looking to control blood sugar (the low-carb camp). Indeed, a lower GI may be a good indication that a food is safer for diabetics, though it is not a guarantee.

When I first saw that coconut palm sugar has a low GI I figured it would be composed largely of fructose, similar to the popular sweetener agave nectar (and high-fructose corn syrup). Fructose does not impact blood sugar because it is transported directly to the liver and converted to fat. For an explanation of this mechanism, check out Dr. Lustig’s video on the dangers of fructose.

I was surprised to find, however, that coconut palm sugar is reportedly very low in fructose, and its main sugar component is sucrose (aka table sugar). What confuses me is that the GI of coconut palm sugar is supposed to be 35, while the GI of sucrose is 64. Something doesn’t add up.

I could only find a summary of how GI was measured and not the published study itself. Also, this information was only available on the website of a company that sells coconut palm sugar. This doesn’t mean the number is inaccurate, but it is a little suspicious and I’d like to see the study repeated by another credible source or two before taking it as fact.

(UPDATE: At one time I found reports of newer tests that found discrepancies with the reported GI of Sweet Tree products, but the page has since been taken down)

The number of calories in coconut palm sugar is almost identical to the number in regular table sugar and its closer relative, brown sugar. But coconut palm sugar is notably higher in various micronutrients, probably because it is less processed than industrial sugars.

But does anyone really eat sugar for health benefits?

There are a number of good reasons to consider using coconut palm sugar as a substitute for white or brown sugar in your kitchen. For me the most obvious benefit is that it tastes amazing, similar to brown sugar but with a rich complexity I’ve never tasted in industrial sugars.

Overall coconut palm sugar is a tastier and possibly healthier substitute for granulated or brown sugar. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a health food, or even low-carb just yet.

Substitute coconut palm sugar for traditional sugar at a 1:1 ratio in normal cooking and baking.

Have you tried coconut palm sugar? What do you think?

Originally published March 10, 2010.

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For The Love Of Food

by | May 20, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

I love Marion Nestle calling out the food industry on their ridiculous health claims, the emphasis on food culture in health and the launch of the new and awesome Gilt Taste.

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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How Healthy Eating Saves You Money On Health Insurance

by | Jun 30, 2010
Day 9

Photo by j.reed

I’ve been a student my entire life so have never had to worry about health insurance. (I’m 30. I know.) As you might expect, I consequently don’t know much about how the whole business works.

One thing I do know, however, is that when I finally have to join the real world and find my own coverage I hope to use it as little as possible. According to today’s guest post, it looks like I’m on the right track.

Yamileth Medina is an up-and-coming expert on health and health insurance plans. She lives in Miami, Florida. Follow her on Twitter @YamilethMedina.

How Healthy Eating Saves You Money On Health Insurance

by Yamileth Medina

We all know eating healthy helps us look and feel our best, but there is another great reason to upgrade your healthstyle: a healthy diet can save you a ton of money on health care costs.

Over the past decade, health insurance rates have skyrocketed. In 2009, monthly premiums in the United States were 131% higher than they were in 2000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. This is largely due to the high cost of treating diseases related to unhealthy diets.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and RTI International, health conditions related to obesity (including type 2 diabetes and heart disease) cost the American health care system over $147 billion each year.

What is this money spent on?

  • Open-heart bypass surgery: up to $20,000
  • Prescription medication and supplies for diabetes: $115 to $177 monthly–for life
  • CPAP machines (to treat sleep apnea): from $150 to $5,000

An obese person costs 42% more to treat than a person of normal weight, which is an additional $1,429. Health insurance plans must pass these costs onto you through higher premiums. In order to recoup these expenses, obese individuals often find it harder to find individual coverage, due to the increased risk of health problems obesity entails.

Much of this cost is passed onto other consumers, since the majority of Americans have employer-sponsored plans from their jobs. Insurers must recoup the increased costs in order to maintain their margins.

Although the Obama administration’s healthcare reform legislation will eventually forbid health insurance companies from denying you a policy due to your health status, that will not take effect until 2014. Still, unhealthy individuals will not be out of the woods: the law also promotes wellness incentives, which promote healthy lifestyle modifications–such as dietary changes. Under the legislation, insurers and employers will be allowed to refund up to 50 percent of the premiums for those who meet the specified goals. That is a significant amount of money that could end up in your pocket if you maintain a healthy weight.

From my personal experience, healthy eating is close to 80 percent of the equation when it comes to weight loss. I was a faithful exerciser for years, but it wasn’t until I changed my diet–to include more vegetables and whole grains–that I started seeing success.

Even if you are lucky enough to be blessed with an extremely fast metabolism, that doesn’t mean that you can eat nothing but junk all day and not suffer any consequences. The “skinny-fat” phenomenon consists of people who appear healthy, but have the cardiovascular profile of someone in poor health. Unhealthy eating habits promote visceral fat, which is invisible to the naked eye but is even more harmful to your well-being than the visible flabby stuff.

In fact, some studies indicate that even if an obese person does not reach a healthy body mass index (BMI), under a healthy eating plan they would nevertheless be healthier than a person of normal weight that had a relatively high percentage of body fat.

Can multivitamins make up for a poor diet? Don’t count on it. When it comes to health, nutrients are not the same as food. There seems to be something special about how all of the nutrients work together in the context of whole foods. In that respect, nature can’t be improved upon.

For several years, insurance companies will still be able to judge your health status and decide on your rates accordingly. Maintaining a healthy weight means you will be free of expensive co-payments for cholesterol and heart disease medication, and benefit from any financial incentives that may come about in the future.

Upgrading your healthstyle also assists you in sticking to a budget; cooking for yourself is far less expensive than eating out one or more times a day. In a nation slowly crawling out of a severe recession, this is especially important.

Above all, your immune system will become stronger–helping you stay healthy and reducing the chance of expensive hospitalizations in the future.

Fortunately the solution for better health is relatively simple. Visiting a farmers market once a week and buying a cookbook or two can save you a substantial amount of money on your health insurance plan in the long run.

Is your diet affecting your health insurance costs?

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