Sign up

You deserve to feel great, look great & LOVE your body

Enter your email for your FREE starter kit to get healthy & lose weight without dieting:

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Exercise actually can help you lose weight, CA bans soda taxes, and pollution causes diabetes

by | Jul 6, 2018

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

This week exercise actually can help you lose weight, CA bans soda taxes, and pollution causes diabetes.

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

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 »

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Most Underrated Health Foods

by | Mar 5, 2014

Photo by Michael Hodge

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

It’s time to shine the spotlight on 10 of my favorite healthy foods that never get the attention they deserve.
Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Top 10 Most Overrated Health Foods

by | Mar 3, 2014

Photo by Paul Holloway

Like it or not, we tend to believe whatever we are exposed to in the media and in advertisements. In nutrition this usually means that as a society we all follow the same diet fads, glorifying some foods over others in the quest for better health. (It’s okay, I love salmon and coconut water as much as you do).

Problem is though, more often than not the news or the health claims made by food manufacturers vastly overstate any potential health benefits, because it makes a more compelling story and sells more products. Our own confirmation biases tend to make us believe what we’re told, we confidently share our insight with our friends, and suddenly our grocery stores are filled with health foods that really aren’t all they are cracked up to be.

Here are my 10 picks for the most overrated health foods.
Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

How To Avoid Getting Sick In Flu Season

by | Oct 9, 2013

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov

It’s weird for me to even write this, but it has been nearly 3 years since I’ve had any illness.

Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Food Labels: The Only Thing You Need To Know

by | Sep 23, 2013

Photo by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

It’s no secret that my favorite foods rarely have labels. Whenever possible I recommend starting with raw ingredients from the produce aisle, fish counter and butcher, and building your meal from scratch. Seasonal ingredients from your local farmers market are better still, and tastier to boot.

But I’m also aware that we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances that aren’t particularly conducive to healthy eating. Eventually most of us will end up staring blankly at the back of a plastic container or cardboard box, wondering what evils will descend upon us if we choose this packaged morsel over another.

Food labels have become stupidly complicated, not to mention misleading. Instant oatmeal mixes have “30% more protein” (huh?). Several brands of granola and crackers at my favorite health food store include “love” on their ingredient list (how is this legal?). Products without any animal-based ingredients proudly showcase that they’re “cholesterol free,” as if it were possible for plants to produce cholesterol (or dietary cholesterol even had a measurable impact on your health). And sometimes it seems like every processed food under the sun has the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval (Thanks guys, real helpful.).

Don’t kid yourself, these labels are not about health. They’re about selling more food at higher prices. The data consistently show that people (that includes you and me) are willing to pay more for a product if we think it has a special health benefit. Unless the system changes, expected to be bombarded with misleading food labels for the rest of time.

Fortunately, navigating the insanity is fairly simple.
Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nutritionism 101: How to See Past Nutrition Marketing

by | Jun 19, 2013

Photo by {Guerrilla Futures | Jason Tester}

Long time readers know that I’m a huge fan of today’s guest blogger, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, and his pithy and entertaining blog Weighty Matters.

Read the rest of this story »

Tags: , , , , ,

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?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Tips To Save Money While Eating Healthy

by | Feb 4, 2013

Collards, Carrots and Lentils Recipe (click for recipe)

Most people consider it common knowledge that healthy food is expensive and unhealthy food is cheap—that’s why we’re all so fat, right?

But for most people it does not need to be this way. Since I upgraded my healthstyle not only have I lost weight and become healthier, I have also managed to save more money.

How?

In a nut shell, I started cooking more at home.

It is a sad reflection on our culture that so many people rely on fast food for their daily sustenance, and my heart goes out to those who truly cannot afford better. But I contend that many of the bad decisions we make about food each day are more an issue of (perceived) convenience than price.

Last I checked burritos in San Francisco averaged over $5. And if you have properly set up your kitchen you will find it actually takes less time to cook a healthy meal than it does to place and fill your order at El Farolito.

Every penny counts in this brutal economy. Here are a few tricks you can use to save a buck and get a little healthier too.

10 Tips For Eating Healthy On A Budget

  • Cook at home The most important change I made to save money was to turn cooking at home into my default option rather than rely on neighborhood eateries as my go-to cop out. Eating out is expensive, no matter which way you cut it.
  • Shop on weekends If you already have fresh food in the fridge you will be more motivated to cook for yourself instead of going out and spending money. Make the habit of buying food ahead of time and you won’t be as tempted to waste money going out.
  • Shop seasonally When choosing what to eat, taste trumps health 90% of the time. (That’s why you rolled your eyes when I suggested you eat fewer burritos.) If you really want to start eating healthy you must want to eat vegetables, and that will only happen if the ones you buy taste delicious. Seasonal, farm fresh produce can completely change how you feel about vegetables and fruits—it also tends to be the best deal in the produce section.
  • Shop at the farmers market In my experience the best tasting produce in a chain grocery store is at Whole Foods. But if you have ever been shopping there you know what a dent it can put in your wallet (this does not apply to their non-fresh items, which are competitively priced and often cheaper than other stores). Rather than handing over your Whole Paycheck or settling for less than inspiring options at Safeway, do your weekly produce shopping at your local farmers market. If you shop intelligently (see below) you can get 2 meals for the cost of one burrito.
  • Focus on leafy greens Leafy greens like kale, chard, collards, spinach and broccoli are some of the most nutritious, least expensive things you can buy. And this is true at any grocery store, not just the farmers market. Frequently, half a bunch of kale with some beans, grains and herbs is my entire dinner and costs around $1.50. It also takes less than 15 minutes to prepare. Can you beat that?
  • Buy in bulk Canned beans are fine, but dried beans taste better and are way cheaper. Grains from the bulk bins at your local health food store are only pennies per serving. Cook these staples in large batches and save them in your freezer for cheap, quick and nutritious food anytime. This is also true of lentils. Just add some greens and you’re good to go.
  • Eat less meat This is probably the easiest way to save money. Whether at the grocery store or at restaurants meat is always the most expensive thing on the menu. I do not advocate a vegetarian diet, but limiting meat to once or twice a week is an easy way to cut back on both calories and expenses. If you are worried about protein (you needn’t be) you can eat beans, eggs and lentils instead.
  • Use fish from cans Fish is an important part of a healthy diet, but fresh fish can be expensive (especially the wild sustainable kinds). Canned salmon, sardines (boneless, skinless), smoked mackerel and anchovies are inexpensive alternatives for protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Make fruit dessert If you think the farmers market is expensive my bet is you spend most of your money on fruits. I am the first to admit that fruit can be very expensive, especially summertime berries and stone fruits. While I do recommend you invest in some high-quality farmers market fruit, it will be easier on your wallet if you consider fruit a treat.
  • Think long term I am not arguing that buying every single food item at the farmers market is the cheapest way to shop, but it is almost certainly the healthiest. Our hedonistic tendencies may incline us toward cheap, greasy foods but you should consider what you are really paying for in the long run. Poor diet can be attributed to most cases of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer and a generally difficult, painful life. And I probably don’t need to convince you that a farm fresh salad costs less than a hospital trip and a lifetime of medication. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive, but unhealthy eating can cost you your life.

What are your favorite money saving tips for healthy eating?

This post was originally published on May 20, 2009.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Healthy Snacks For After Your Workout

by | Nov 5, 2012
Delicious Nuts

Delicious Nuts

“When I work out at the gym, I am there for a couple of hours and by the end of the first hour, I am still energized but start getting hungry. I read your article on packing food for lunch but wanted to specifically ask if you recommend any specific store bought bars.”

I frequently get questions about different nutrition and energy bars. Generally I think they are a bad idea, since they are usually just processed food with added vitamins and/or other trendy diet ingredients—a hallmark of food from the Matrix.

Energy and meal replacement bars serve only one purpose: convenience. Some may be better than others (check the ingredients to be sure), but don’t fool yourself into thinking these are health foods.

That said, I understand that quick calories can be incredibly useful, particularly when intense workouts are a regular part of your day. If you get hungry and don’t have anything around to eat, the chances of you breaking down and eating something you’ll really regret increase substantially. But I think there are better things to carry around than energy bars.

My quick snack of choice is nuts or trail mix. I always have a small stash of nuts hidden somewhere in my gym bag (which comes with me everywhere). My personal favorites are almonds, pistachios, cashews and macadamia nuts. When I’m feeling ambitious I’ll combine a few different kinds together in a plastic zipper bag along with some dried fruit, just to mix things up.

One of the only drawbacks of snacking on nuts is if you are really hungry it is easy to eat too many and ruin your appetite for dinner. Too many nuts can also be difficult to digest. To avoid this I recommend getting into the habit of counting the nuts you eat, drinking water and waiting 20 minutes before eating more. The protein and fat in nuts can be very satisfying, but it takes awhile for the satiety signals to reach your brain.

For almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts 10 is a good number to start with. For shelled pistachios and peanuts, 15-20 nuts is more realistic. You are aiming for a single serving size of 1/4 cup. After some practice, eating the proper amount will come naturally to you. But at the beginning you should either count the nuts or measure them out in advance so it is easier to make good decisions.

There are a few other easily transportable foods that can serve as good substitutes for energy bars. Fruit is a great option, particularly filling fruits with lots of fiber like apples and oranges. Be careful with soft fruits, however, or you may end up with a gym bag filled with goo. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.

(Read: How to transport soft fruits and vegetables)

Another option that I don’t often use but am not opposed to is jerky. Beef and turkey jerky are generally high in protein and very satisfying. Just be careful about the teriyaki flavor that is often high in added sugar.

As a final thought, I wonder if you are maybe spending too much time in the gym? For weight loss and fat burning, more than an hour is really overkill and may actually work against you. If you are training for a specific athletic event, you’ve gotta do what you gotta do. But for the rest of us mortals one hour in the gym is more than enough to accomplish our goals. Maybe your hunger is a signal to you that it’s time to shower up and head home?

One of the most essential aspects of a great healthstyle is planning for moments of hunger throughout your day, but processed foods are hardly ever the answer, no matter how convenient.

What are your favorite post-workout snacks?

Originally published November 16, 2009.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Myth Of Superfoods

by | Sep 24, 2012
Blueberries

Blueberries

The term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot, usually by the media or somebody selling something. But more often than not it sends the wrong message about healthy eating, and only serves to fuel the fire of nutritionism.

Superfood refers to an edible plant (e.g. blueberries) or animal (e.g. salmon) that contains high levels of a particular nutrient (antioxidants! omega-3s!) that can supposedly help with a certain health issue. When something gets labeled as a superfood, most of us will automatically assume that it is extra super duper healthy and we should go out of our way to eat more of it. Not that we will, but maybe we’ll try to try and eat more.

To their credit, the superfoods I’ve seen are usually legit healthy foods. They tend to be berries, greens, fish and other natural ingredients. In other words, I haven’t seen any reports that Vitaminwater is a superfood and actually really good for you.

But is there really some list of magical foods that will save you from certain death? Probably not.

Obviously nutrients are important, but large doses of them from either food or supplements are almost never associated with added benefits. That is because the way our body deals with micronutrients is not linear (more does not mean better). Instead there is typically an ideal dose range for a given nutrient where too little is bad and too much is also bad, but any reasonable quantity is pretty darn good. Think of Goldilocks finding the perfect porridge temperature and bed softness. In normal ranges your nutrient levels will be just right, freeing you to continue snooping around strangers’ homes (or whatever).

Though it is hard to overdose on whole foods, it is possible. But more important, eating a lot of one kind of food almost certainly won’t give you any health advantage. If you’re eating something that means you aren’t eating something else, and in Western cultures what we’re really lacking is nutrient diversity.

The vast majority of our diets are made up of the same handful of foods that we eat over and over again. Even people who make legitimate efforts to eat healthy have rather limited diets if their fruit and vegetable purchases come from standard supermarkets. Throwing blueberries in there every now and then can only add so much.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of important nutrients (vitamins, antioxidants, etc.) in our diets, and the reality is we probably don’t know what all of them are, let alone what functions they serve in our bodies. The problem gets even more complex when you factor in the context of our genes, environment and other foods we consume.

Each natural food contributes its own unique blend of nutrients. If you want to get the most from your diet, you’re much better off focusing on dietary diversity rather than loading up on the top 10 foods some magazine says you should eat more of.

All that being said, it does make me happy when lowly, forgotten vegetables like beets and lima beans get featured in the New York Times. Vegetables need all the press they can get, and it’s true that most people don’t eat enough vegetables period. Any article that encourages you to try a new kind of food is a good thing.

Keep in mind that if you see a food labeled “super” you should take it with a grain of salt, because the reality is that all natural foods are superfoods. The ones that make the news just happen to be those that some reporter decided to shine her spotlight on for the time being. Who knows what vegetable will land in the spotlight tomorrow?

What are your favorite unsung superfoods?

Originally published August 11, 2010.

Tags: , , , , , ,