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How To Burn More Calories Without Breaking A Sweat

by | Sep 12, 2012

It’s amazing to me how easy it is to forget to move.

This year was the first time in about 5 years that I found myself gaining weight. It wasn’t a lot, just 5 lbs over 6 months or so, but it was strange for me since I didn’t think I was doing anything different.

I write and think about healthy living all the time, and I absolutely love the food I eat. I no longer crave sugar, and avoiding it isn’t hard. If anything I have eaten healthier than ever during this time, since I started working at home and control 100% of my meals. I’ve been eating the same or better quality food than I always have, and have even improved on my mindful eating techniques.

So what gives?

I didn’t think the problem was exercise, since I still go to the gym 4-6 days a week. My workouts have actually gotten better, and I’ve noticed welcome improvements in several aspects of my physique (thank you kettlebell!). I wasn’t upset about how I looked, I had just gotten slightly larger and didn’t know why.

Then about 6 weeks ago I figured it out: I had stopped walking.

When I was still in my PhD program I had a substantial walk to work, at least a mile each way if I took the campus shuttle, and about 2.5 miles each way if I walked the whole distance (I did this rarely, but tried to squeeze it in when I could). I also worked in the lab, running back and forth between rooms and up and down stairs to get equipment. Though I came home each evening and worked on Summer Tomato until the wee hours of the morning, I was not sedentary.

Even during my brief stint in the corporate world after graduation I had a walking commute to work. But after I quit in January I just stayed at home writing. At first I had a standing desk/table I was using, but logistics and a problematic elbow forced me to move to the coffee shop across the street where most of my work gets done now. This sedentary shift correlates exactly with when I noticed my pants getting tighter.

What’s crazy to me is that this amount of exercise seems so inconsequential it doesn’t even register in my brain until months after the change has occurred (did I mention I was still working out almost every day?). And it’s not like I never think about this stuff, I noticed when I first started walking that I effortlessly dropped weight. How could I forget that non-exercise activity (NEAT) is so important?

It’s easy to forget, but this is good news. It means that it is not a chore to burn more calories—in fact, you will hardly notice. All you need to do is make an effort to be a little more active throughout the day, and work to build more activity into your daily routine.

To solve my problem, I turned to my puppy Toaster. He needs to get out and walk a few times a day, so I thought why not improve both of our lives by making a daily pilgrimage to the bigger, better park that’s about a mile from the house instead of the smaller, dirtier park that is closer and more convenient? He gets more exercise and behaves better, I get my walk in, and we both have more fun. Win-win.

I’m happy to report that my pants are fitting better again and I’m back down to my normal weight.

If you don’t have a dog, there are plenty of other ways to move more. Avoid elevators and escalators, walk to lunch or between floors in your building, do chores more enthusiastically at home and park further away in the parking lot. Just standing up more can make a difference. These things add minuscule amounts of time to your tasks but add up significantly for your health.

Unlike structured, high-intensity exercise, walking and other low-intensity movements don’t make you hungrier. There’s good evidence that increasing your daily activity can burn hundreds of extra calories each day and may be one of the most effective ways to impact your energy balance (i.e. burn more without eating more). This is not true of more formal exercise, which tends to make people hungrier. Importantly, non-exercise activity correlates with body weight in obese as well as normal weight individuals, so everyone can benefit from extra movement.

Even if you already work out regularly you should still strive for additional daily activity. Amazingly, high-intensity exercise doesn’t lower your inclination toward NEAT, but raises it. In one study, scientists measured NEAT 3 days before and 3 days after overweight individuals performed either moderate or high-intensity exercise. There was no measurable change in NEAT until the third day after exercise, when it increased 17% after moderate activity and 25% after intense activity. That’s impressive.

When you’re as busy as I am, it’s easy to make excuses about why extra effort is impossible. But adding a little extra movement to your normal, daily activities is far and away the easiest way to lose weight and improve your health, so why not?

I’ve also found a substantial meditative value in incorporating more physical activity. Several of my most complex problems have been solved during my walks and I’ve been plowing through podcasts and audiobooks, which I swear makes me smarter. Your brain truly appreciates a break from the screen.

Ironically, it took noticing that I was “reading” less to make me examine what was different in my life—I realized I was listening to fewer audiobooks because I was walking less, and put 2 and 2 together. Problem solved.

It’s easy to be lazy and just wait for the elevator with everyone else, even though you know the time it saves you is insignificant. But today I hope I’ve convinced you that it’s worth resisting that urge and making an effort to be more active. Try making it a game or competing with your friends using pedometers like the FitBit for extra motivation.

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Originally published September 12, 2011.

 

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Is Organic Food Really The Same As Conventional?

by | Sep 5, 2012

Organic Golden Beets

On Monday a study from scientists at Stanford made headlines by concluding that there isn’t much health value in choosing organic food over conventional food. The headline didn’t surprise me in the least, I’ve seen similar ones at least a dozen times before, but there is still so much confusion among the general public around this topic that it’s worth revisiting in the wake of this new data.

Despite what organic zealots are telling you, this wasn’t a bad study. It was a meta-analysis that examined a number of relevant health measures comparing organic versus conventionally grown foods over the last several decades. They excluded processed foods from their analysis (this is a good thing), and looked at nutrient levels as well as pesticide contamination and antibiotic resistance in both produce and animal products. They were also careful about which organic standards were included in the study. Though the analysis has plenty of limitations (all meta-analyses do), their statistics were sound and the researchers were honest about their findings. What’s really annoying is how their results were interpreted by the media.

One problem is that the word “organic” is a huge umbrella that includes sustainable, biodynamic farming practices as well as huge-scale industrial operations that barely squeeze under the “certified organic” labeling standards. As a result there is a tremendous amount of heterogeneity (a scientific word for a wide range of differences) between the organic foods being tested, as well as the types of studies that are performed. As a result, it is difficult to measure consistent differences (aka statistical significance) between organic and conventional foods in this kind of study. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do much to further our understanding of how growing practices affect health.

The huge variance among farming practices that fit under the organic umbrella is not trivial. By far the largest segment of organic products on the market could be considered industrial organic, and the farms are closer to traditional industrial farms than most of us realize. Large organic farms are typically monoculture fields just like large conventional farms, though more crop rotation is required. Industrial organic poultry and beef farms also look oddly similar to conventional industrial feedlots, even if the animals are eating organic feed. In fact, both organic and conventional industrial farms are often owned by the same mega-corporations, and share the same bottom line of profit. There’s no reason to suspect that these industrial organic foods would be markedly more nutritious than conventionally grown foods.

In contrast, smaller biodynamic farms have extensive practices designed to build soil, improve robustness of crops and ensure bio and nutrient diversity. Instead of monocultures, these farms grow huge arrays of different vegetables and fruits. If a biodynamic farm raises animals they are given their natural, preferred diet of grass (for cows) or bugs and seeds (for birds). The animals are treated well and fed well, and are healthier as a result. If you want to learn more about the differences between conventional agriculture, big organic agriculture and biodynamic farming I highly recommend Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Joel Salatin’s latest book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

Interestingly, despite the wide range in the quality of foods that qualify as organic, the Stanford study did find some significant differences. Organic produce contained significantly more phenols, the cancer fighting chemicals found in red wine, green tea, chocolate and many fruits and vegetables. However, this finding was glossed over in favor of the non-significant differences found between vitamin C, betacarotene and vitamin E levels in organic versus conventional foods.

It is reasonable to hypothesize that organic agriculture (at least in some cases) would be more nutritious because the soil standards for organics are much higher than for the depleted, synthetically fertilized conventional fields. Soil quality and weather (the raw ingredients) are by far the biggest factors in the nutrient levels of produce, with freshness and storage methods being next in line. Indeed, organic agriculture typically has more minerals and the Stanford team confirmed they contain significantly more phosphorus. But there is so much variety among plants, and from season to season, that you shouldn’t necessarily expect large, consistent differences in the levels of common vitamins like C and E from genetically identical plants.

That the Stanford team found measurable differences in total phenol content is pretty impressive. There are dozens of phenolic compounds that could benefit health in different and subtle ways. Nutrition science still can’t explain the benefits of all these nutrients, but having more of them certainly seems like a good thing.

Still lack of pesticides, not better nutrition, is the most commonly cited reason for buying organic over conventional foods. Pesticides are designed to kill things, and have been shown repeatedly to be dangerous for farm workers and other wildlife. They also accumulate more in the bodies of people who eat conventional produce compared to those who eat organic, and susceptible populations such as children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly are at particular risk. The Stanford study confirms organic agriculture has substantially fewer pesticide contaminations, but for some reason this finding was also glossed over since the conventional produce levels “didn’t exceed maximum allowed limits.” Logically, however, if limiting pesticide exposure is important to you (as it should be) organic produce is the better option.

The animal studies were even more encouraging. Small but significant improvements in fatty acid profiles were found for organic milk and chickens, which contained more healthy omega-3 fatty acids. More importantly, antibiotic resistant bacteria, the kind that are becoming more common (and deadly) in our own hospitals, were 33% more likely to be found on conventional meat products than on organic meat. Antibiotic resistant bacteria being created on industrial farms is one of the scariest threats to human health in modern history, and any measures that limit their proliferation should be seriously considered.

From this study it seems reasonable to conclude that organics, even industrial organics, are superior to conventional foods in some ways. Organic farms cannot use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, sewage sludge (yes, human sewage is used on conventional food), irradiation or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and must help maintain or improve soil quality. These practices are much better for the environment, significantly limit the amount of pesticides you are exposed to, reduce the proliferation of dangerous pathogens and may be more nutritious.

Organic agriculture certainly sounds like it has some advantages over conventional ag to me.

Do you buy organic? Why?

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How to raise your HDL cholesterol

by | Aug 29, 2012
Olive Oil

Olive Oil

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

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

That’s right, you want higher HDL cholesterol.

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

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

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

10 Ways to raise your HDL cholesterol

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

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

Are you concerned about HDL? Is your doctor?

Originally published Sept 14, 2009.

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Is Drinking Alcohol Healthy Or Dangerous?

by | Jul 23, 2012
Rocket Bar Wine

Photo by Mr. T in DC

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

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

Let’s start with the facts:

1. Alcohol is addictive

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

2. Alcohol damages the liver

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

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

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

4. Alcohol protects against mortality from heart disease

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

5. Alcohol raises good HDL cholesterol

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

6. Red wine may slow aging

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

7. Red wine may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

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

8. Alcohol causes accidents and behavioral problems

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published July 28, 2010.

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Is It Healthier To Eat Like A Caveman?

by | Mar 7, 2012

Photo by Lord Jim

“What do you think of the Paleo diet which advocates zero grain consumption?”

The Paleolithic diet is one of the most rapidly growing diet trends of the past several years. Followers of the Paleo diet argue that humans have not evolved to eat agriculture-based foods and can only achieve optimal health by consuming a hunter-gatherer style diet. Thus the Paleo diet is completely devoid of grains and legumes, and also shuns dairy, salt, refined sugar and processed oils. The diet is composed primarily of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, roots, nuts and seeds.

(The Wikipedia article on the Paleo diet is actually pretty good if you’d like to read up on the details. I particularly like the Opposing views section.)

Like most diets the Paleo diet has a little bit of good science behind it, but also a lot of logical leaps and baseless assumptions. The evolutionary argument that humans are somehow maladapted to agriculture-based diets is particularly unconvincing (resting on many unproven assumptions), yet is the fundamental premise on which the Paleo diet bases its recommendations.

The reasoning behind the Paleo diet is less interesting to me, however, than the impact of the diet itself. Will “eating like a caveman” really help you be healthier?

Possibly, but not necessarily.

The most obvious advantage of the Paleo diet is the lack of processed foods. There is ample evidence that societies on traditional diets boast far better health than those on modern, Western diets–and the hallmark of modern diets is food processing. Paleo diets therefore are low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, excess salt and pretty much everything else that leads to “diseases of civilization.”

Paleo diets are also abundant in healthy, nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish and meats. I have no doubt that anyone willing to stick to a Paleo eating plan will have a healthy weight and remain virtually free of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and may even have lower rates of cancer.

But the question still remains, is it necessary to eat Paleo to be healthy?

This is where I take issue with the Paleo philosophy. While a diet completely free of processed foods is undeniably healthy, the Paleo diet goes beyond this and demands considerable sacrifice.

Paleo diets do not allow for any grains or legumes. This pretty much eliminates every traditional cuisine on earth including Japanese, Italian, Indian and Greek. Not only is this a culinary tragedy, it ignores the fact that these cuisines feed some of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived individuals.

Traditional, global diets that exclude highly processed foods but also include grains and legumes have been some of the most successful for health. Diseases of civilization are only problematic in Western cultures where processed foods make up a large proportion of the calories and few whole food are consumed.

Proponents of the Paleo diet argue that it is necessary to eliminate grains and legumes because they contain “antinutrients,” substances that can interfere with the body’s absorption of other important vitamins, minerals and proteins. However, well-nourished individuals who eat a varied diet of unprocessed foods (including grains and legumes) are not nutrient deficient and are generally healthy.

Given that it is possible to thrive on a diet that includes some grains, legumes and even small amounts of processed foods, one must question if giving up the culinary joys of travel and global cuisine are really worth the sacrifice.

In my experience, food substitutions and modified recipes designed to mimic traditional meals can sometimes be tasty but can never replace true authenticity.

Another contention I have with the Paleo diet is the assumption that the same eating patterns will work for everyone. People’s lives differ in countless ways. We each have different levels of daily activity, demands on our time and food preferences. We also have different genetic backgrounds, which can result in significant differences in metabolism and hormone levels. These individual variations make dietary needs different for each of us.

Because of our individual differences, there is undoubtedly a percentage of the population that thrives on the Paleo diet and finds it easy to stick to and achieve results. Hooray! However there may also be a segment of the population (myself included) that finds living without grains and legumes to be chronically unsatisfying and unsustainable.

Try telling a foodie they can never eat cheese or drink wine again and see how far you get pitching a Paleo diet.

If you currently eat a typical Western diet with little variety and many processed foods, tend to have better success following rigid diet plans, and have no qualms about giving up or modifying traditional meals to meet your dietary demands, then you might have luck following the Paleo diet. However there is no reason to believe it is the only path to good health.

The best diet is the one that works for you. Finding a healthstyle you can embrace and enjoy is essential if you want to build a lifetime of healthy habits.

Do you follow a Paleo diet? What do you think?

Originally published February 22, 2010.

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Foodist Recalibration

by | Jan 1, 2012
Photo by o5com

Photo by o5com

It’s been a rough couple of months. I’ve been out of town almost every weekend since the beginning of November, and sadly can’t remember the last time I went to my beloved farmers market.

Though the traveling was fun, I couldn’t be happier to ring in 2012 with a fresh start. I don’t diet or “cleanse” (I’ve yet to hear a scientific explanation of what that actually means), but I’m taking the first two weeks of January to eat extra healthy and recalibrate back to my regular happy self.

I have just three simple rules I’ll be sticking to. Of course my emphasis will be on eating lots of healthy vegetables, fish, legumes, pastured meats, fermented foods, etc. But to really get back on track I’ll also be temporarily eliminating the three most inflammatory (and weight loss unfriendly) foods.

Summer Tomato’s Health Recalibration

1. No sugar.

Everyone knows sugar is bad for you. And although I believe there’s a place for small amounts of it in a healthy diet, I’ll be living without any added sugar for the next two weeks.

If you plan on following along, I’d also recommend avoiding sugar substitutes. Calorie-free sweeteners have never been shown to assist with weight loss, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors by keeping your palate craving overly sweet foods. If you’re desperate for a little treat during this time, fruit is your best bet.

2. No wheat.

I typically limit my bread consumption to about once or twice a week, but for the next two weeks I’ll be going without it completely. Wheat is incredibly inflammatory and is associated with a huge range of health problems. Eliminating wheat and gluten, wheat’s main protein, for awhile gives your body a chance to heal from the damage done over the holiday season.

If you suspect you might be sensitive to gluten, two weeks might not be enough of a break to get you back to feeling normal. Four to eight weeks without it is what is typically recommended to test for sensitivity, so feel free to extend past two weeks if you’re troubleshooting health problems like fatigue, depression, arthritis or digestive issues.

I recommend avoiding all processed flours during recalibration, but you carbohydrate lovers still have lots of delicious options to get you through. I’ll be relying on rice, quinoa, potatoes and legumes to keep me from being a cranky low-carber. If you absolutely must eat pasta during the recalibration, there are plenty of good gluten-free options. Quinoa pastas aren’t too bad, and rice noodles are also usually gluten-free.

Keep in mind if you want to go fully gluten-free you should also skip barley. Oats don’t contain wheat gluten but are often contaminated during processing. Gluten-free oats are available at some stores.

Lastly, remember that soy sauce is made with wheat and contains gluten. A gluten-free option called tamari is an excellent substitute that basically tastes the same.

3. No dairy.

This one will be the hardest for me since cheese, yogurt and the occasional half-and-half do make regular appearances in my diet. However, dairy can make insulin regulation difficult and it can help to cut it out for a couple weeks.

Eliminating dairy products can help with other problems as well. Cow’s milk is the only food that is directly linked to acne. It can also be an inhibitor to weight loss, even in very small amounts. Like gluten, dairy can also trigger inappropriate immune responses, making it particularly problematic for people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

For milk lovers, I recommend almond milk or coconut milk as tasty substitutes, just be sure you get the unsweetened varieties. Here’s why I don’t usually drink soy milk.

4. Alcohol

I love me a glass of nice wine or a well-crafted artisan cocktail. I drink alcohol fairly regularly, and there is a good amount of evidence that it protects against coronary heart disease. Though there have been reports about alcohol increasing cancer incidence, the risks are typically mitigated by a healthy diet that contains plenty of folic acid.

So why do I recommend a two week break from the sauce? For starters, alcohol lowers your inhibition and makes it much harder to stick to the recalibration. It’s hard enough, you don’t need any extra excuses. The more important reason, however, is alcohol’s effect on your liver. Like fructose (the sugar molecule that is processed by the liver), alcohol promotes body fat accumulation and insulin resistance. For recalibration to be effective, you’ll need to be a teetotaler for at least two weeks. Sorry.

I started on January 1, but Monday January 2, is probably a more reasonable start date for most of you.

Who’s with me?

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Is Healthy The Opposite Of Thin? How Body Image Messages Can Backfire

by | Aug 29, 2011

Photo by AmandaBreann

When I was 18 few things were further from my mind than health. Sure I enjoyed my status as a thin, relatively fit teenager, but there was virtually no connection in my brain between what I put in my body and how long or happily I would live.

At that time I saw healthy eating as a fringe activity, for granola crunching hippies or men over 60 with beer bellies. I had no reason to worry about heart disease at my age and organic food was way more expensive, so why bother?

But that wasn’t the only reason I avoided the issue. As a self-conscious girl from Southern California, I was very concerned with my weight. People considered me thin, and I had every intention of staying that way. I knew that my obsession with my body image and constant dieting was considered “unhealthy,” but I didn’t care.

From my perspective the message from the media was clear: healthy is the opposite of thin. And when you’re young and think you’re invincible, the choice is obvious. Getting kids to worry about something in the distant future is difficult enough, but when you set it up as the antithesis of their immediate goals you make it nearly impossible.

It wasn’t until years later that I started to appreciate the value of health as an objective. I now understand that healthy is beautiful, and that thin and healthy are not mutually exclusive. Your ideal size is determined largely by genetics, but if you eat well, exercise and take care of yourself not only will your body look the way you want, you’ll also have nicer hair, a clear complexion and brighter eyes. You’ll likely have more energy and feel happier as well.

Sadly, body size is still the focus when most people talk about health. When you’re “too thin,” healthy means eating more regardless of quality. When you’re overweight, healthy means losing weight no matter how you accomplish it. But in the long term health is a reflection of your daily habits and is determined by things like the quality and diversity of your diet, how often and vigorously you exercise, exposure to environmental toxins and other factors.

While body weight can certainly be an indicator of health problems and sometimes reflect improvements, it’s important to understand that the message we send about health can backfire if these two things are inextricably linked.

How do you define health?

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10 Foods You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Teeth

by | May 4, 2011

Photo by ♥serendipity

Today’s post is from guest blogger Robert Milton. He blogs for Jollyville Dental, an Austin dentist, who specializes in cosmetic dental procedures and Invisalign braces.

10 Foods You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Teeth

by Robert Milton

Most people know candy and other sugary foods wreak havoc on their teeth, but how about fruit?

You’ve probably heard brushing and flossing twice a day is the best way to keep your teeth healthy. But some foods cause enough damage to warrant extra cleanings.

How does food damage your teeth?

There are two main elements of food that tarnish your pearly whites: sugar and acid.

Sugars, especially sucrose (table sugar), feed the millions of bacteria already in your mouth. Bacteria feast on your plaque buildup and produce lactic acid, which erodes your tooth enamel. Sucrose is the worst form of sugar because it adheres to teeth very strongly making it (and the bacteria) difficult to remove even when brushing.

Acids naturally occur in many foods, including fruit. In these cases, bacteria aren’t necessary to produce acid and cause tooth decay. Instead, acidic foods eat away at your enamel and break down your teeth directly.

Generally you can wash away natural acids by drinking water. Ironically, brushing soon after consuming acidic foods or beverages can actually cause more damage. Because teeth are porous, brushing softens them and makes them more susceptible to acid. After eating acidic foods, you should wait at least an hour before brushing.

What foods should you worry about?

In addition to the sugar and acid in foods, you should consider the length of time food is left on your teeth. The more time bacteria have to produce acids, the more damage will be done.

While many of these foods are healthy for other reasons, you should try and care for your teeth soon after eating them. Drinking water with your meal, chewing sugar-less gum, rinsing with an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash or flossing and brushing with toothpaste reduces the risk of damage.

Look out for:

  • Sugar and/or acid content
  • Stickiness (how much food remains on teeth)
  • How long the food is in your mouth

10 Foods That Damage Your Teeth

1. Apples

Apples are high in acid, are surprisingly hard on your enamel. While a daily apple may keep the doctor away, the acid might keep your dentist on speed dial. Eating apples is fine, just be sure to rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash shortly after.

2. Hard candies

Though you probably know the sugar in candy is a problem, hard candies are especially harmful because we tend to hold them in our mouths longer. Also be aware that cough drops are often made with sugar, so opt for the sugar-free brand if available.

3. Pickled vegetables

Pickles are made with vinegar, which is acidic, and often sugar as well. While the vegetables are healthy, the brine is can damage your teeth. Drinking water with your meal helps wash away acids and sugar, but remember to brush an hour later.

4. Bread

Many breads contain sugar—especially processed white breads. It’s best to check the labels for any added sweeteners that will breed mouth bacteria. Bread is also sticky and gets between and behind your teeth.

5. Popcorn

Popcorn is notorious for getting stuck in your teeth, and the areas between your teeth will cultivate more bacteria for that reason. It’s okay to treat yourself to a bag of popcorn as long as you rinse with water and remember to floss and brush after.

6. Peanut butter

Sticky and often made with sugar, peanut butter not only feeds bacteria but makes it easier for them to adhere to teeth. Look for natural peanut butters with no added sugars to lessen the problem.

7. Jelly

Along with peanut butter, jelly or jam is loaded with sugar and quite sticky. Even the all-fruit brands contain natural sugars and encourage plaque and bacteria if not washed away soon.

8. Meat

Meat tends to get stuck between your teeth, and some meat products contain sugar as a preservative. While the amount may not be very high, any food that sits between your teeth can promote tooth decay. Try chewing sugar-less gum after eating if you can’t brush right away.

9. Diet soda

Just because it doesn’t have sugar doesn’t mean your teeth are safe. The acidity of diet sodas is still extremely high, making it one of the worst products for your teeth.

10. Salad dressing

More of a condiment than a food, salad dressings use vinegar and sugar for flavor. Salads should be a staple in anyone’s diet, but be careful of the dressings that can harm your smile.

What are your tips to reduce tooth decay?

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How Healthy Is Deli Meat?

by | Apr 18, 2011

Photo by Daryl Marquardt

People trying to cut calories and refined carbohydrates out of their diet often turn to deli meats as a high protein, low fat alternative. But is this really a good idea?

While refined carbohydrates increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease, so do processed meats including sausage, bacon and deli meats. It is unlikely to be the fat (or even the saturated fat) in these products that do the damage, since processed meats are consistently shown to be more dangerous than saturated fat alone.

In fact, what the food manufacturers replace the fat with often ends up being much more risky.

What’s in them?

Take a quick look at the ingredients of a Louis Rich turkey variety pack:

Smoked White Turkey: White Turkey, Water, Salt, Contains less than 2% of Modified Corn Starch, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Garlic Powder.

Smoked Turkey Ham: Turkey Thigh Meat, Water, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

Turkey Bologna: Turkey Ingredients (Mechanically Separated Turkey, Turkey), Water, Modified Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Corn Syrup, Dextrose, Flavor, Enzyme Modified Skim Milk, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Extractives of Paprika.

Turkey Cotto Salami: Turkey Ingredients (Turkey, Mechanically Separated Turkey), Water, Turkey Hearts, Contains less than 2% of Salt, Sodium Lactate, Sugar, Sodium Phosphates, Spice, Sodium Erythorbate (Made From Sugar), Garlic Powder, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Nitrite, Flavor.

What exactly is “flavor”? I’ll let you ponder that one.

These meats are pumped full of starch, sugar, salt, preservatives and other random ingredients. Given the quality of the meat they use (“mechanically separated turkey”?) it’s not hard to understand why. All that added “flavor” is needed to make these products taste like juicy meat again.

The low fat versions are even worse, containing higher amounts sugar and salt to make up for the lack of natural fat flavor.

Why is this bad?

The extra starch and sugar are not good since they are, after all, the processed carbohydrates we want to avoid. However these are still a relatively small contribution to total calories. The bigger issues with processed meats are the added sodium and preservatives.

Processed meats have been associated with increased risk of several cancers, particularly those of the digestive system. It has been suggested that the presence of nitrates and nitrates used in the preservation methods are a potential cause, however the data remains inconclusive. Confusing the matter further is that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates in the human diet and some have suggested that in this context they may be a beneficial nutrient.

Heart disease has also been clearly associated with consumption of processed meat, though the reason for the connection is still unknown.

Then there’s the issue of quality. There are a lot of questionable ingredients in highly-processed deli meats like these from Louis Rich. It is unclear if the health risks are the same whether the meats are cured and preserved with high-quality ingredients (charcuterie vs. standard deli meat) or when the meat is preserved without the use of nitrates and nitrites.

What to do

Though it is difficult to point to the exact reason processed meats are dangerous, there is enough evidence associating them with serious health problems to warrant limiting them in your diet. Most of the studies that found associations with processed meats and cancer considered 5 or more servings a week to be a high dose.

To be on the safe side I recommend limiting your intake of processed meats to less than 4 servings per week.

For alternative snack ideas check out Healthy Snacking 101.

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Introducing Summer Tomato Live! – February 15 @ 6:30pm PST

by | Feb 8, 2011

I’m thrilled to announce my latest project Summer Tomato Live! Catch the first episode 1 week from today, Tuesday February 15, at 6:30pm PST.

What is Summer Tomato Live?

Summer Tomato Live is a new live online show for Summer Tomato readers. My goal this year is to give you guys more direct access to me so I can answer all your food and health questions that come up day to day.

Summer Tomato Live will be like an online classroom, where each episode I discuss a reader-selected topic and give you the chance to ask questions and get immediate answers from me in real time. Questions can be submitted live on the show as either text or video call-ins. Video calls are a great way to have a real discussion and dig deeper than a typical Q&A.

How often will you broadcast?

Summer Tomato Live will broadcast every other week beginning next Tuesday. Though the day and time will vary each episode, the show will typically be on weeknights at or after 6:30pm PST.

If you can’t make the live show but have a question you’d like answered, feel free to ask it in the comments on this post and we’ll do our best to cover it (a recording of the show will be available later on iTunes).

What will we be talking about?

I’ve had literally hundreds of people ask me what I think about The Four Hour Body, the new best-selling book by Tim Ferriss. Tim has certainly given us a lot to talk about, so the first show will be dedicated to discussing his Slow Carb Diet, as well as the other food and health advice from the book.

If you aren’t familiar with Tim’s work, here’s a brief primer on the Slow Carb Diet.

How do I participate?

The first show will be open to everyone and you can tune in here at Summer Tomato next Tuesday, February 15, at 6:30pm PST. If you can’t make it to the live broadcast, it will be available afterward as a podcast on iTunes.

Future shows will require a password for live participation. The password will be emailed to subscribers of the new Summer Tomato premium newsletter, Tomato Slice.

What is Tomato Slice?

Tomato Slice is the new premium newsletter from Summer Tomato. Subscribers will receive access to Summer Tomato Live during the broadcast where you’ll have my full attention for the duration of the show, and I’ll answer anything you’d like to know on the topic at hand. Subscribers can also submit questions in advance via email, which will get preference over non-subscriber questions.

In addition, Tomato Slice will be an email forum for education and discussion. Still have a question about our topic after the show? You’re probably not the only one. Send it in and I’ll answer it, sharing the most interesting points with the group. I will also periodically share answers to questions that I think are of value, but not broad enough to be the subject of an entire show or blog post.

Don’t worry, you will not get a zillion new emails. I will also serve as an email filter providing only the most relevant, interesting and popular questions and answers. You can expect no more than 1-2 emails per week.

I anticipate Tomato Slice will evolve over time to best suit subscribers’ needs. My goal is to give you direct access to me, and provide an additional educational tool for those of you who are dedicated to eating well and being healthy.

The subscription fee for Tomato Slice is $3.99/mo.

Sign up here

Why are you charging?

I realize people expect online content to be free, and I generally agree. That is why you will always have free access to Summer Tomato Live after it is released to iTunes a week after the live show.

But Tomato Slice is more than just web content, it is direct access to an expert who is offering her time and energy to help you with your own specific food and health questions.

I intentionally set the price point very low so it would not be a barrier to anyone interested. I spent 6 years as a graduate student (poverty) living in San Francisco (not cheap) and I could have easily budgeted $1/week for a service like this. So while the newsletter is accessible to virtually everyone it will filter for those who are serious about food and health, people who will follow the conversation and ask thoughtful questions.

Tomato Slice is also a way to support Summer Tomato. I’ve poured thousands of hours into creating and maintaining the quality content you find at Summer Tomato every week. So far it has been a labor of love (Foodbuzz ads don’t pay squat), and so I’ve been limited in how much of my time I can realistically dedicate here. But three weeks ago I quit my job so I could devote my full attention to this site, therefore another purpose of the fee is to make sure I can continue to pay my student loans (and hopefully one day afford healthcare).

Just to be clear, the podcast is free so long as you do not want to watch it live or have the ability to ask me questions in real time. Articles on Summer Tomato will continue as usual, and simple questions will still be answered for free in the Ask Me section of the site. Tomato Slice is just a bonus service for those of you who want more direct access to me and my overly-educated gray matter.

Still want to subscribe? Do it here

Bonuses

I’m happy to announce that the first episode of Summer Tomato Live is being sponsored by Foodzie and Zürsun Heirloom Beans. Foodzie will be sending free samples of Zürsun heirloom cranberry beans (dry beans) and giving you a chance to receive one of their coveted Foodzie tasting boxes for free ($20 value) for the first 150 subscribers to Tomato Slice.

Free Foodzie tasting box! That’s worth 5-months of subscription right there, plus you’ll get some of the most delicious foods on the planet. What have you got to lose?

Lastly

I’m really excited about the show, I’ve run a few tests with my Twitter followers and the feedback has been awesome. For those interested, there will be one more little sneak peak (our final software test) tonight at 7:30pm PST, right here in this blog post. I’ll be answering questions about the new show and newsletter, along with anything else you’re curious about.

Hope to see you there!

p.s. If you’re planning to call in, please have earbuds and a microphone ready (the headset that came with your iPhone is fine). Also try and use a hardwired internet connection rather than wifi.

Enter your email address to subscribe to Tomato Slice ($3.99/mo):

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