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How to Build a Cooking Habit

by | Jan 8, 2014

Photo by Ben K Adams

David Spinks is the CEO of Feast, the home of the Feast Bootcamp: a 30-day online program that helps you build a habit of cooking while taking you through the fundamentals of practical, healthy home cooking. He also writes about life improvement, health, habit building and happiness on the Feast Blog.

I’m not personally affiliated with Feast in any way, I just happen to think it’s a fantastic tool to help build an unstoppable healthstyle.

How to Build a Cooking Habit

by David Spinks

Have you ever said “I should really learn how to cook” but still can’t bring yourself to do it?

You’re not alone.

Millions of people consistently struggle with the same problem.

If you’ve been a regular here at Summer Tomato and you’ve read Darya’s book, you already know cooking is good for you. And if you don’t already cook regularly, you probably want to learn.

Maybe you’ve tried to follow recipes or have even gone to a cooking class or two, but you just can’t seem to get the hang of it.

This is the problem we set out to solve over a year ago at Feast, and after working with thousands of people to figure out why they can’t learn to cook, we’ve discovered a lot about the real problem.

We now have an excellent idea of why you consistently fail to achieve your goal of cooking and what you can do to finally make the change in your life.

Read the rest of this story »

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6 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Actually Go to the Gym

by | Sep 2, 2013

Photo by Abdullah AL-Naser

Joshua Hardwick is a fitness enthusiast from the small town of Chesterfield, UK. He loves the internet and runs his own fitness blog over at You can keep up-to-date with his posts on Twitter or Facebook.

6 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Actually Go to the Gym

by Joshua Hardwick

If you’re anything like me working out makes you feel energized and clear-minded, but actually gathering enough motivation to go can be difficult. While it isn’t so bad in the summer months, I find it extremely difficult to make it to the gym on cold winter mornings when I know it’s well below zero outside.

When I manage to drag myself to the gym in the evenings I usually feel exhausted from work, and more often than not I’d rather just go home, watch some TV and go to bed.

When I don’t workout though, I always regret it. Here are some tips I’ve found that keep me motivated.
Read the rest of this story »

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How Mindful Eating Can Help You Eat Less

by | Aug 8, 2011
Red Flame Grapes

Red Flame Grapes

Today’s guest post is by Jyoti Mishra Ramanathan, a fellow UCSF neuroscientist who studies attention and distraction in the human mind. In her article Jyoti reveals how attention impacts our experience of food and how we can harness this power to help us eat less without feeling deprived.

Learning to be a mindful eater will permanently change your relationship with food and is essential for upgrading your healthstyle.

Mindful Eating and Portion Control

by Jyoti Mishra Ramanathan

I grew up in India where life revolves around food. One wakes up to plan breakfast and as soon as that is over plans lunch, then immediately prepares for a typical 3-4 course dinner. When I visit aunts or my grandma, I’m barraged with food at every moment: eat this, eat that! Oh! You aren’t eating enough! Oh! Do you not like my dishes?

If you don’t accept all or any food that comes your way, it is seen as a sign of disrespect. And if this isn’t enough to make you over-eat, remember too that food is sacred in India. How could one waste the grains on one’s plate when there are millions around us suffering from hunger? Consequently, I grew up believing it is normal to forever be bursting at my seams–to eat to the point where taking another bite might even make me sick.

But a few years ago my eating habits changed.

I was at a meditation workshop and one evening we were told we’d be given one grape for dinner. This sounded impossible. However, I obediently sat cross-legged with the other attendees and was handed my single juicy purple grape.

As I popped it in my mouth, I was told to shut my eyes and sense the grape in its totality: I rolled my tongue around it becoming aware of the soft and smooth exterior of the tiny fruit, I imagined its rich purple color, and then as I slowly bit into it, I savored every trickle of juice that I could extract from the grape.

The process took me a full five minutes and never in my life have I remembered eating such a delicious grape, although it was from no extraordinary vine. Miraculously, I felt full as well.

Try the grape exercise. I do not promise the satisfaction of a full meal, but it is a beautiful exemplar of mindful eating that consequently taught me portion control.

4 Simple mindful eating tips

1. Never eat distracted, i.e. while watching TV or running to catch the bus. Observe the deliciousness on the plate, the colors, textures, flavors and smells, savoring each bite. As the meal makes its way to the stomach, start to notice the fullness in your tummy. I found that there is an initial satiation simply from this sensory overload of observant eating.

One could stop here, but this is not enough nourishment and hunger tugs again relatively soon. But as you slowly chew on your food and enjoy each bite, you experience a real fullness that completely satisfies your hunger. This sensation precedes the contentment of the taste buds, which may still desire a few extra bites of that rich chocolate cake. But as I learned to identify the hunger satiety point at each meal, I found I could also control the desires of my taste buds.

2. Do not visit a restaurant starving. It is harder to control how much you eat when faced with novel delicacies at a restaurant, especially when you get there on an empty stomach. My best defense against this is to eat a small snack right before. My favorite is a quick salad.

At home I always keep miscellaneous salad ingredients on hand: mixed greens, cheese, raisins, walnuts, candied almonds, grains like quinoa, blueberries, avocado, sundried or cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, figs, grilled chicken strips, smoked salmon, etc. Mix-and-match any of these in varying proportions and add some homemade dressing. Each time you will have a novel salad that never gets boring. After a light snack it is much easier to have restraint while ordering and eating, keeping both waistline and budget in check.

3. Share a meal. My husband and I more often than not share an appetizer, entrée and dessert at a restaurant. This is not because we can’t afford more. We simply enjoy sharing–describing the new tastes to each other, immersing ourselves in the experience and appreciating new food. In these happy moments satiety emerges effortlessly.

Try this even when out with a group of friends: order for 3 with a group of 4 and share. If there is still food left over and there are no pets or family at home, I offer my extras to the homeless. I just gave away a carrot cake a couple of nights ago and the delight in those eyes was like someone who had just found a treasure!

4. Don’t aim for 100% full. Hara Hachi Bu is Japanese for eating until 80% full. Okinawan islanders practice this and are known to be one of the longest living people on the planet. Their longevity is attributed to this moderate calorie restriction in combination with consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, which protect against free radicals that damage your body’s cells.


In summary, there are many benefits to portion control: feeling better right after a meal, long-term health, weight management, saving cash by eating less and perhaps even living longer.

Practice mindful eating to make portion control a reality for you.

How do you control your portion sizes?

Originally published September 2, 2009.

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How I Lost 60 Pounds In 1 Year With A New Healthstyle

by | Mar 23, 2011
Patrick in Sept - 20 lbs ago

Patrick in Sept 2010 (20 lbs ago)

I recently learned about Patrick from a comment he left here at Summer Tomato. I was astounded by his tremendous weight loss success and touched by his story of how he got there.

Patrick describes himself as “just a regular guy that works a corporate job who decided to educate himself with the internet and use the knowledge to upgrade my healthstyle.”

I hope he inspires you as much as he’s inspired me.

P.S. Because of Patrick I’m now doing interval training again, and I’ve noticed a difference in less than a week. w00t!

How I Lost 60 Pounds In 1 Year With A New Healthstyle

by Patrick Birke

My journey really began two years ago with the birth of my daughter. She was born in March, and the following summer my wife and I bought out a friend’s CSA (community supported agriculture) summer share who was moving out of the neighborhood. With ¾ of the summer season left, we received more vegetables than we knew what to do with.

We began making our own baby food for our infant daughter. Steaming fresh veggies, pureeing them and freezing it into ice cube trays was the perfect way to feed her over the next year without the need to ever buy store bought baby food. By the time the season was over we were hooked on the CSA. The three of us even went to visit the farm for their annual fall harvest celebration, we picked our own pumpkins and saw where all of our yummy veggies were grown.

This was the first step to the new me. I was introduced to fresh vegetables that I would normally pass right by at the grocery store (things I didn’t even know they had, but have now noticed) such as kale, swiss chard, fennel, leeks, rutabaga, turnips, squash, brussels sprouts, rhubarb, just to name a few.

That fall we ran out of our CSA stock but we did purchase a half cow and half pig from a local farmer to get us through the long Minnesota winter.

Local grass-fed beef is great, but I quickly learned that it cannot be the only thing in my diet.

By spring 2010, I was up to 200 pounds. We signed up again for the CSA summer share but I knew if I wanted to lose weight and gain muscle, that diet alone would not do it. So I joined a gym. I have belonged to various gyms in my life and even have an elliptical in my basement, but I never lost weight in the past because I hadn’t changed my diet.

I started out slowly, going only once or twice a week. I would use the elliptical for 50 minutes while watching an episode of True Blood or other action show where the cast is ripped. This was great motivation to get to the gym—I could go get bad Chinese food with my co-workers or I could workout and see what trouble Sookie Stackhouse was in today.

In summer 2010, we began receiving our CSA summer share again. We made it a fun weekly routine to pull our daughter in her wagon to the CSA drop off location in our neighborhood. We would also stop by one of the dozens of farmers markets around Minneapolis to fill in what we needed.

I was back on a balanced vegetable diet and increasing my gym time to 2-3 times per week, but the picture was still not complete. The next piece of the puzzle was to start cutting things out that I don’t need. This includes soda, fast food, frozen pizzas, delivery pizza, milk, juice, processed and packaged food, etc.

Breaking these habits did not happen overnight, but over the course of the year I’ve done pretty well. Cutting out soda was easy, especially when I gave up coffee (which was not for weight loss reasons, but for caffeine withdrawl headaches). Since I spend my lunch hour at the gym, I no longer get fast food for lunch. Instead I bring a sandwich (tuna, turkey, chicken, etc.) and a piece of fruit. There are times when I do buy my lunch, but I get a salad instead.

I still enjoy going out to dinner with friends or family and am not too concerned about what I eat there, but I am mindful of the pitfalls (dinner rolls, buffalo wings, movie popcorn, cookie dough Blizzards, etc.). At home we occasionally get take out, but it is just as fast to cook something than wait for delivery or pick up take out.

By cutting these things out, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise, I started to really see some progress. I lost 40 pounds by the fall of 2010 without starving myself or counting calories. I am conscious of portions and always read food labels, (especially for the first few ingredients) but it does not rule me.

By fall, I had run out of True Blood and switched to shorter television shows on the elliptical, using the remaining time to lift weights. Again I started slowly with just a few weight machines. I also went back to the internet and read about the benefits of mixing a lifting routine with interval cardio.

I decreased my time on the elliptical, increased my time lifting and started experimenting with intervals on the treadmill. Some people might call it HIIT (high-intensity interval training), but I like to think of it is as MIIT (moderate-intensity interval training). I could always run faster but I am not interested in blacking out or throwing up after a workout, because I do have to go back to work!

Over winter 2010-2011, I was doing a 10 minute warmup on the elliptical (now watching The Tudors in 10 min intervals), then lifting for 20 minutes (I mix in free weights with weight machines), then 20 minutes of intervals (one minute walk, @ 4 mph, one minute jog @ 6 or 7 mph, one minute run at 9 or 9.5 mph, repeat).

Although the treadmill calculates less calories burned doing intervals verses just running @ 8 mph for 20 minutes, I get super sweaty and feel great! Again, I use my phone to motivate me, I listen to Stuff You Should Know or other podcasts while lifting, and Girl Talk or other up tempo music while running.

I now go to the gym 3-5 times a week as my work schedule allows. I work in a very tall building in downtown Minneapolis, so the days that I cannot get there (due to lunch meetings or other) I run/walk up the stairs between meetings, sometimes more than 10 flights at a time. It gets the heart pumping, but I don’t even get winded anymore.

From fall 2010 until now, I have lost another 20 pounds bringing the total to over 60 pounds. My weight has plateaued again, but that is fine. I am slowly gaining muscle while losing the remaining belly fat, which means my weight is pretty stable.

For the winter, we signed up for a winter share from the same CSA. We received a lot of root vegetables (potatoes, carrots, etc.) along with fruits and vegetables they saved from the summer and froze. We include spinach, kale or chard in almost every meal we can. The CSA also includes really good bread and granola they make on the farm.

These days it is all about routine and spending time cooking with my family. We plan a vegetarian night (Meatless Monday!), a fish night (ahi, salmon, sword fish, etc.) and a meat/pasta night (local beef, pork or chicken). With enough leftovers to get us through the rest of the week. My wife and I both bring our lunches and snack on nuts or fruit between meals.

Although I have cut out a lot of junk food, I don’t feel like I am missing out. I still enjoy alcohol and have a glass (or two) of wine or Scotch almost every night. I try to stay away from sugary desserts, but do have the occasional piece of cake or ice cream.

By reading Summer Tomato and the links that Darya provides, I have started to incorporate other foods such as white beans, lentils, quinoa, etc., especially on vegetarian nights. I’ve learned to love food and really pay attention to it instead of just cramming anything into my mouth. I’m always looking for new and interesting recipes. I’m even starting to get to the point that I can make dinner without having to pre-plan it, just by using what is on hand.

This summer we’re signed up with the CSA for our 3rd year, and have added a fruit share. I’m on the look out for an egg share and possibly a bread share, though I might try to start baking my own bread instead.

To summarize, I attribute my weight loss success to a combination of diet, exercise and cutting out the junk. Each one of those things alone would not (and have not in the past) accomplished it. The love of my family and cooking together keeps me going everyday.


Patrick Birke

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Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – It’s NEAT!

by | Nov 8, 2010
By regelzamora

By regelzamora

Today’s guest post is by Travis Saunders, MSc, Certified Exercise Physiologist. Travis and his colleague Peter Janiszewski, Ph.D, MSc, are both PhD trained scientists who have a fantastic blog over at PLoS Blogs, Obesity Panacea.

While Summer Tomato is more food-centric, Obesity Panacea focuses on exercise and physiology.  Perfect match, right?

I asked Travis if he would be kind enough to write a post on how to get more exercise without having to actually go to the gym (NEAT), something both busy and lazy people alike can appreciate.

Personally I’m a big believer in NEAT. A year and a half ago I stopped taking BART to work and started walking instead. To my surprise this added only 5 minutes to my commute time and is infinitely more enjoyable.

Even though I already logged 4-6 regular cardio and strength training workouts per week, this added mileage caused me to drop another 3-5 lbs that has never come back. It also gives me time to listen to my favorite podcasts!

But what is NEAT exactly? For that I’ll turn the mic over to Travis.

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – It’s NEAT!

by Travis Saunders

For decades, we have been told of the benefits of physical activity, and with good reason – regardless of body weight, people who exercise live longer, healthier lives than people who don’t exercise.

In the past, the focus has been on performing structured sessions of moderate or vigorous exercise (e.g. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise on a bike or treadmill).

While intense physical activity has a tremendous health impact, a growing body of evidence suggests that accumulating short bouts of low-intensity physical activity throughout the day can also have substantial health benefits, which may even rival those associated with more vigorous sessions.  This low-intensity physical activity is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT.

The concept of NEAT was proposed by Dr James Levine, who defines it as:

“…the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than volitional sporting-like exercise. NEAT includes all those activities that render us vibrant, unique and independent beings such as dancing, going to work or school, shoveling snow, playing the guitar, swimming or walking in the modern Mall.”

I can understand why some people would be skeptical that activities like gardening or mall walking could have a measurable impact on health.  After all, those things aren’t exercise, right?

Fortunately, it turns out that the body doesn’t care whether those activities are exercise.  James Levine’s work has shown that NEAT burns an average of 330 calories per day in healthy individuals (and up to nearly 700 calories/day in some people!), and that obese individuals perform drastically less NEAT than their lean counterparts.

Levine has also made convincing arguments that NEAT could burn up to 1000 calories per day when properly incorporated throughout the work day.  These results suggest that NEAT can burn a tremendous amount of calories, which has obvious implications for weight maintenance and obesity prevention.

But the other key benefit to increased NEAT is that it reduces sedentary time, itself a strong predictor of both death and disease.

Independent of total physical activity levels and other risk factors like abdominal obesity, recent evidence suggests that time spent being sedentary (e.g. sitting or lying down) is a strong predictor of metabolic risk, as well as mortality.  This means that regardless of how much they exercise, people who spend more time sitting are at a higher risk than those who sit less.

New research has even shown that merely taking more frequent breaks from sedentary activities (e.g. standing up) is also associated with reduced metabolic risk and abdominal fat levels.  The reasons for these associations are still being worked out (it probably is to due to changes in LPL and glucose transporter protein activity in skeletal muscle, which are altered by even short bouts of inactivity), but the findings are consistent and have been observed in both adults and children.  Since NEAT includes activities like standing and walking, any increases in NEAT will obviously result in reductions in time spent in sedentary activities.

So, how can you reduce your time spent being sedentary and increase your NEAT levels?  Luckily, it’s not very hard.

Here is a brief list, and for more suggestions, please read “10 Ways to Become More Active”, which can be found on Obesity Panacea.

6 Ways To Get More NEAT

1. Buy a Pedometer

Pedometers are beeper-sized devices which are worn on the waist and keep track of the number of steps taken each day.  They are cheap (a good one costs about $20), and are a great way to assess your level of NEAT.  Each week, try to increase your daily step count by 1,000 steps/day, with a goal of reaching at least 10,000 steps per day.  Friendly step-count competitions with co-workers can also be surprisingly fun, and are a great way to promote increased physical activity within the office environment.

2. Take the Stairs

This one is obvious.  I can’t tell you how often I see people taking the elevator up or down one single floor.  It doesn’t save any time, and it deprives people of physical activity.  You don’t have to walk up twenty flights of stairs to make this worthwhile – try to walk up at least one flight, and down at least two, and build up to more flights as you feel up to it.  If you have to go further than you can walk comfortably, take the elevator the rest of the way.

3. Active Transportation

Walk or bike to work and when performing errands whenever possible.  If that is not an option, consider taking public transportation, which almost always involves a short walk at both ends of the trip.  And if you absolutely have to drive, park as far from the door as possible.  It might only add 5 minutes of walking to your day, but that’s 5 minutes you wouldn’t get otherwise.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

This sounds odd, but it’s a trick that I’ve been using for years. If you are constantly sipping water throughout the day, you are going to have to pee at least once every couple hours. Every time you have to pee, you have a guilt-free excuse to go for a 5-minute walk to the washroom and back! To crank it up a notch, use a washroom in another part of your building, which may give you an opportunity to use the stairs as well.  It’s easy to forget to take a 5-minute walk-break every hour, but it’s impossible to forget to go pee.

5. Have “Walk” Meetings

These types of meeting are becoming increasingly popular at my workplace.  Think of all the times that you need to have a 5-10 minute chat with another co-worker or superior.  Instead of doing it at your desk (and potentially annoying your colleagues), why not talk while casually strolling down the hall?  This is another great way to accumulate activity without even noticing that it’s happening.

6. Walk During Your Lunch Break

If you are one of those lucky individuals who has a daily lunch break, why not use it for a short walk?  A ten or twenty minute walk on a daily basis can add up over time, and you’ll almost certainly feel better than if you spent your whole break sitting at your desk.

These are only a few examples, but I hope they illustrate how easy it can be to incorporate more NEAT into your daily life.  Give it a shot, and good luck with your healthstyle!

Let’s have a big round of applause for Travis!

Originally published at Summer Tomato on October 19, 2009

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Great Thinkers: 10 Inspiring Quotes For Healthy Living

by | Jul 19, 2010
Universe in a magic Drop

Photo by h.koppdelaney

It always helps to start off the week with the right frame of mind. Huge thanks to Cathryn for sending in today’s guest post!

Cathryn Johnson is self proclaimed health-nut and a content writer for Online MBA Rankings who gives advice on the education, pursuing an online mba and living a healthy life. In her free time she enjoys travel, theater and having fun in the sun.

Great Thinkers – The Benefits of Good Health

by Cathryn Johnson

Many of us, when we think of weight loss, exercise and living a healthy lifestyle, we think like Mark Twain:

The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.

We focus on the negatives. We think about how hard it will be and all that we will be missing. But the real joy and benefit of good health comes from focusing on the positives of health, what we gain through living well.

Here are ten quotes from great thinkers to challenge, motivate and inspire us to exercise, eat right and live healthier lives:

10 Inspiring Quotes For Healthy Living

1. Buddha (c. 563 BC to 483 BC) – a spiritual teacher from ancient India who founded Buddhism

To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

2. Marcus Valerius Martialis (known in English as Martial) (circa 40 AD – 103 AD) – a Latin poet from Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) best known for his twelve books of Epigrams

Life is not merely being alive, but being well.

3. Edward Smith-Stanley (1752-1834) – English statesman, three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Those who do not find time for exercise will have to find time for illness.

4. Paul Dudley White (1886 – 1973) – an American physician and cardiologist

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.

5. Henry Ward Beecher (1813 – 1887) – a prominent, Congregationalist clergyman, social reformer, abolitionist, and speaker

The body is like a piano, and happiness is like music. It is needful to have the instrument in good order.

6. James Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859) – an English critic, essayist, poet and writer

The groundwork of all happiness is health.

7. Francois Rabelais (c. 1494 – 1553) – a major French Renaissance writer, doctor and Renaissance humanist

Without health, life is not life; it is only a state of languor and suffering.

8. Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) – an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist and author

A healthy body is a guest-chamber for the soul; a sick body is a prison.

9. Persius (34 AD -62 AD) a Roman poet and satirist of Etruscan origin

You pray for good health and a body that will be strong in old age. Good — but your rich foods block the gods’ answer and tie Jupiter’s hands.

10. Menander (ca. 342–291 BC) – Greek dramatist, the best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy

Health and intellect are the two blessings of life.

What inspires you to live healthy?


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6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

by | Apr 28, 2010

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:
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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A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by | Apr 26, 2010
Springtime Quiche Recipe

Springtime Quiche

Today I’m excited to have one of my favorite scientists and healthy eating bloggers, Jenn Cuisine, sharing her story. Jenn is an amazing cook who has learned gluten free cooking because of her husband’s gluten intolerance.

I find Jenn particularly inspiring because despite her culinary restrictions, deliciousness is always her top priority. She cooks amazing, healthy food and takes beautiful photos. In fact, it was months before I even realized her recipes were gluten free.

Jenn Cuisine is perfect for anyone interested in delicious, healthy recipes. Follow her on Twitter @jenncuisine

A Springtime Quiche, Gluten Free

by Jenn

Hello! And thanks so much to Darya for inviting me to talk with you all. I have always been a big fan of Summer Tomato, the vast wealth of information that Darya provides about health and tasty food is just simply amazing!

The month of May, Celiac Disease Awareness month, is quickly approaching, and so I thought it would be the perfect time to talk about my family’s gluten free experience and how we get on in the kitchen.

My husband is not technically celiac, but is very intolerant to gluten and has many similar symptoms as celiac disease. Never having had any problems with gluten myself, I panicked a little bit when I found out. I learned about his condition soon after we started dating, and was completely overwhelmed at the thought of making gluten free food.

“No bread? No pasta?  No flour? OMG what in the world am I going to make for him??” This put a serious wrench in my plans to win over his heart with some fabulous home-baked goods, like my dad’s famous peach pie.

I was utterly clueless about how to prepare gluten free food, and my husband didn’t have a good handle on how to eat GF back then either. He was constantly miserable and reacting to everything, and just didn’t have the kitchen know-how to consistently create tasteful gluten free meals. Gluten free became a learning experience for the both of us. And together, by learning how to cook all over again, we fell in love.

At first, I felt that making gluten free food shouldn’t be a big deal. I wanted our lives to continue as if being gluten free were a mere afterthought–but I quickly realized this is not how this works. GF is a permanent and ever present part of his life, which needed to be acknowledged. Some foods are challenging and others are simple, but no matter what we will be gluten free. This is not some fad diet for us, this is a part of who my husband is, and therefore, who I am.

We started out simple and slow, at first relying on a number of packaged foods. However, these products really weren’t fulfilling taste-wise and were quite pricey for our grad-student budgets. Thus began my venture off into the world of gluten free cooking from scratch, learning about various alternative flours, binders and ratios.  I even managed to successfully make my dad’s peach pie.

As time went on, cooking transformed from something I used to stress over into part of our daily lives that we both can now proudly embrace. Gluten free cooking is not a handicap. If anything, GF has been liberating, because I have grown to appreciate so much about food, flavor, creativity and love.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that GF cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, most of what we cook on a daily basis needs no alterations, no substitutions. I find it’s best this way. After all, food shouldn’t be a fuss–that takes the fun out of it. Cooking should be relaxing, a time for sharing, and a time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. We learn from each other this way, and bond over soups bubbling on the stove, chicken roasting in the oven, or pastries being rolled out.

These are the little joys that food and cooking can bring us, little ephemeral moments of bliss, which are not limited to only glutenicious dishes. Through learning how to create food gluten free, I’ve learned to enjoy cooking all over again.

There are so many tips and tricks I have learned along the way–to remove the stress and panic that can so easily overwhelm the newly GF. If you are just starting out in the realm of gluten free food, here are some helpful little bits of advice:

1. Explore!

Be adventurous and try those grains you’ve never seen before. Quinoa, amaranth, millet. Each has a new, different flavor and often contains more nutrients than plain old white rice flour.

2. Find a recipe for a GF mix that you love?

Mix a bunch of the dry ingredients together ahead of time and store the entire mix in one container. This way you aren’t always grabbing a thousand ingredients at once, making baking just as easy as if you had plain old wheat flour in your pantry.

3. Embrace the flourless

Roasts, salads, soups, stir fries, risottos, curries. All of these things are very easy to cook without any substitutions. Many dishes are decadent without ever needing flour, from a simple tapioca pudding to a sophisticated chocolate soufflé.

4. Look to Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines

Several foods from these cultures are naturally gluten free, involve lots of great fresh legumes and produce, and pop with flavor–you may find some great gluten free ingredients at ethnic food markets as well.

5. Practice

Don’t be afraid to mess up! You may not find the perfect whole grain gluten free bread recipe on the first try, but don’t give up. With all things, practice and patience will yield great results.

Today I am sharing with you one of my favorite gluten free dishes to make, a quiche. Pie crusts and the like are great for adapting to be gluten free. They need none of the elasticity or network of air pockets that gluten develops in a bread dough. You can make a decent pie crust with just about any gluten free flours, as long as you keep around 1/3 of the flour a starch, like the tapioca I’ve used here.

In this recipe I like adding the cream cheese because it makes for a great texture–cream cheese is common in several glutenicious quiche crusts as well. Fillings are also extremely versatile, and baking is generally forgiving. I chose to highlight some of my favorite springtime vegetables–spinach and asparagus–but you can add in whatever you want!

Asparagus, Spinach and Bacon Quiche, Gluten Free

Gluten free quiche

Gluten free quiche


For the crust:

1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup tapioca flour
4 oz. cream cheese
1 stick (4 oz.) butter
salt, pepper, herbs

For the filling:

5 eggs
2 shallots, peeled
2 cups fresh spinach
1 bunch asparagus, chopped
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
4 oz. gruyere, grated
¾ cup milk


1. Add all of the ingredients for the crust into a food processor and pulse until it comes together into a ball of dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Heat up a frying pan with a little olive oil and sauté minced shallots until softened. Add in fresh spinach and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until wilted.

3. Remove dough from fridge, roll out in between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (gluten free dough tends to be a bit sticky) until ¼” thick. Peel off top sheet of plastic wrap, flip and transfer to a 9” spring form pan. Press into the bottom and sides of the pan, and then peel off the remaining layer of plastic wrap.

4. In a large bowl, beat eggs and then add vegetables, bacon and cheese, and then add in about ½ to ¾ cup milk. Pour into quiche, cover edges of the crust with foil, and bake about 45 minutes (this will be longer if you make a taller thicker quiche as I did here), or until it has set and crust has nicely browned.

5. Let cool about 10 minutes, unclamp spring form pan, slice, and top with some fresh greens to garnish.  Serve and enjoy!

What are your favorite gluten free recipes?

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Why I Make Homemade Baby Food

by | Feb 1, 2010
Riley and Root Veggies

Riley and Root Veggies

Today I am honored and humbled to have longtime friend and colleague Jennifer Freese share her healthstyle transition from not-so-healthy scientist to thriving new mother.

Jennifer was blessed (cursed?) with the gift of proximity. She sat in the desk and worked at the lab bench directly adjacent to mine for four years at UCSF. As a result she saw firsthand how I gleefully integrate healthy living into my freakishly busy schedule.

Jennifer’s story is the perfect example of how small, gradual and customized changes can transform your life. She started shopping at the farmers market so she could bring fresh produce to make beautiful salads at work (I’m famous for this in the lab). She started jogging regularly, although she swore she could never be a runner. She even switched a few meals a week from red meat to fish, despite her Midwestern roots!

Last year Jennifer had her first child, and is now imparting her healthy lifestyle to her new daughter. I’m thrilled to have her share her story with you.

Homemade Healthstyle: Lessons In Making Baby Food

by Jennifer Freese

I was lucky enough to work with Darya in the Pleasure Lab for four years. It’s hard not to be influenced by her passion for food and a healthy lifestyle. Not just the book recommendations and exercise tips, but watching her effortlessly practice habits which to me seemed impossible. Seeing her live and eat changed how I think about food.

Darya taught me about healthy eating and how to really integrate it into my life. I now love shopping at my local farmers’ market almost every Saturday. I fill my plate with vegetables and eat whole grains I had never even heard of before. Since I do the grocery shopping and a majority of the cooking for the house, my husband has necessarily upgraded his healthstyle as well. And now I’m passing this lifestyle on to the newest member of our family, my daughter Riley.

When my daughter was a few months old we went over to a friend’s house for dinner. I was stunned to see my friend whip open the cabinet and presented her toddler with mac n’ cheese (pop off the top and serve), a handful of yogurt melts (freeze dried yogurt), a banana, and toddler formula.

It was the most highly processed, colorless meal I’d ever seen.

That evening, I thought about how easy it is to go from the jarred pureed baby foods to the now popular grab-and-go toddler foods to adult TV dinners and fast foods. I vowed that when my daughter started solid foods I would do things very differently. I’d already toyed with the idea of making my own baby foods, but it seemed like a lot of work. However, I decided that shaping her tastes early with fresh foods was worth the effort.

Learning to cook for a baby required some research and planning. There are many opinions on how to introduce solid foods to babies and as a scientist I was compelled to read up on all the theories. I am happy to say that Riley enjoys most of the foods I’ve presented to her. In hindsight I think all the time I spent deciding what should come first–pears or peas–wasn’t worth the worry.

Most of the recipes for first foods for babies are the same: steam the fruit or vegetable until very tender, blend and serve. My husband gave me a fantastic gift for my 1st Mother’s Day: the Beaba Babycook and the Cooking for Baby cookbook. The Babycook is a steamer/blender/defroster all in one that I use almost daily. The cookbook has given me recipe ideas beyond simple pureed foods, suggestions for tasty combinations and flavoring with spices and herbs.

Obviously making baby food takes more time than cracking open a jar. I have to plan ahead and make sure I’ve started steaming long before mealtime. Hungry babies do not wait patiently for dinner! I always make large quantities and put some in the fridge for the next few days and freeze the rest. I was surprised at how long it takes to measure out all those 2 oz portions. But once I make that time investment, my freezer is stocked and I have food ready to serve in the future.

Making my own baby food allows me to serve Riley a greater variety of foods and flavors. Roasted red peppers, cilantro and amaranth are not typical on the ingredients list of jarred baby foods. My hope is that this early exposure to a greater variety of foods will help her keep an open mind about food in the future (although I’m sure she’ll go through picky phases like all kids). For now she is growing and thriving and that tells me my time is well spent.

The affirmation that I was doing the right thing came on a camping trip when Riley was 8 months old. I brought some homemade food, but I also took along a few commercial jars. Yes, sometime convenience is really nice, especially in the woods without my Babycook!

It seemed like a good idea until I opened the jar of peas. Unlike my vibrantly colored homemade peas, these were gray and didn’t smell right. Not wanting to influence Riley I disguised my doubts and put a spoonful in her mouth. She completely rejected them.

Not only would she not eat the jarred peas, she wouldn’t eat fresh peas for two weeks. I guess they had lost her trust.

I have since tried some other jarred foods (now I sample everything before I give it to her) and truth is, they just don’t taste like their fresh counterparts. How can we expect a toddler to enjoy fresh green beans when all they’ve had is processed pureed green beans that taste nothing like the real thing?

My experience with Riley is that she enjoys what is served but is reluctant to accept change. I’d much rather she enjoy freshly prepared fruits and veggies and reject the processed food.

Don’t get me wrong though, we’re not only about healthy eating. For Riley’s first birthday I plan to stick an entire mini cake in front of her and let her go at it. But since I will make the cake myself, I feel better knowing every ingredient that is going in her mouth, on her face, in her hair, and on the floor!

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Farmers Market Update: Berkeley

by | Jan 17, 2010
Blue Bottle Coffee

Blue Bottle Coffee

I’m thrilled to have Allison Arevalo from Local Lemons representing today from across the bay in Berkeley.

The Berkeley farmers market on Center street downtown is one of my old stomping grounds. Though there is a lot of overlap in products between Berkeley and SF, the vibe is completely different. This synopsis has definitely inspired me to head back sometime soon.

Allison is a Brooklyn girl who escaped New York for the sunny skies and year-round produce of Berkeley, California. Local Lemons is a collection of original, all-natural recipes designed to give you a taste of local, sustainable living in the East Bay.

Farmers Market Update: Berkeley

by Allison Arevalo

Days like this make it easy to forget winter. While most of the world hides beneath down comforters and behind woolen scarves, in Berkeley I saunter slowly around the farmers’ market, sun warm on my back. And while I am grateful to breath summer air in January, I feel most fortunate to enjoy vibrant greens of winter produce – something I was deprived of living in New York.

My day at the Berkeley market began with a hug from Denise (Chez Us) and a steaming cup of Bella Donovan from Blue Bottle coffee. From there we walked the length of the market, taking it in before making all-important decisions. The Berkeley market is often a sea of green, but today the emerald hues were as varied as the vegetables themselves. Kale, chard, romanesco, broccoli, arugula, spinach, leeks and other greens flourish during the temperate, wet Bay Area winters, making it the ideal time of year to indulge in their nutrients.





Green garlic recently made its yearly market debut, and oh, how I love the mild bite of green garlic. Cook with it, use it as a garnish, stir it into soups or puree it for dips. A favorite recipe of mine uses sautéed green garlic mixed with smashed cannellini beans, a drizzle of olio nuevo and a pinch of flaky pink salt. I grabbed a few stocks from Riverdog farms, where I also purchased plump, stout carrots, so sweet they taste candied.

Phoenix Bread

Phoenix Bread

Green Garlic

Green Garlic

Our next stop was Phoenix Pastificio. The Phoenix makes a rainbow of fresh pastas–porcini, squid ink, meyor lemon, saffron–homemade sauces, cookies and their famous rustic olive bread. I have yet to leave the market without touting a loaf of the cushy artisanal bread, brimming with tangy kalamatas.

Watermelon Radish

Watermelon Radish

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

Among mountains of butternut squash, baskets of sweet lettuce, piles of watermelon radishes and stacks of fresh cheese, Berkeley market is a community; a gathering of locals who come to chat up the virtues of purple carrots, or sample green olive and potato tamales wrapped in banana leaves. I am particularly fond of the white-haired, dreaded beatnik, who reminds me what I love about Berkeley as he strums and sings nostalgic tunes from Bob Dylan.

Today’s Purchases:

Sweet Lettuce: Happy Boy Farms

Arugula: Happy Boy Farms

Rustic Olive Bread: Phoenix Pastificio

Green Garlic: Riverdog Farm

Carrots: Riverdog Farms

Romanesco: Riverdog Farms

Fresh Local Prawns: Hudson Seafood

Bella Donavan: Blue Bottle Coffee

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