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For the Love of Food

by | Apr 11, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This week processed food makes you lazy, some soups may extend lifespan, and the true time frame for forming habits.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For the Love of Food

by | Mar 14, 2014
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This is one of the best link roundups in a long while. Learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about protein and mortality, the real reasons habits are hard to build, and new guidelines for sugar intake.

Want to see all my favorite links? (There’s lots more). Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).
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For The Love Of Food

by | May 17, 2013
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

In case you missed it, here’s the archive of my appearance on Dead to the World with David Gans (KPFA radio) from Wednesday night. One of my longest discussions of Foodist to date. It will only be available until May 29:

http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/91603

UPDATE: Here’s a more permanent version if you want to listen after the KPFA archive expires.

This week around the interwebz the salt police take a blow, chili peppers reduce Parkinson’s risk, and why sunshine is important for more than just vitamin D.

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

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For The Love Of Food

by | Oct 26, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

This week we learn that probiotics fight colds, raw food limits brain growth, and why longevity may require more than diet and exercise.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomato,  Google+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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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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For The Love Of Food

by | Jun 1, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

This week learn why we were better off with quarter pounders, butter is better than “buttery,” and frankenfish are the next Monsanto.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Delicious. I also share links on Twitter @summertomatoGoogle+ and the Summer Tomato Facebook page. I’m very active on all these sites and would love to connect with you. (And yes, I took that pepper heart pic myself).

Links of the week

What inspired you this week?

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For The Love Of Food

by | May 11, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

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

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

Links of the week

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Japan: Eating in Okinawa

by | May 2, 2012

Octopus and Umi Budo

As promised, here’s some photos from the Okinawa leg of my Japan trip. As you’ll see, Okinawa (and its food in particular) deserves special attention.

Okinawa is a small island off the Southern end of Japan. Though most Americans who visit Okinawa do so because of the large US military base there, we were interested because Okinawa is home to the longest lived people on the planet. The island of Okinawa, particularly a small village called Ogimi, has more people over the age of 100 than anywhere else in the world.

Okinawa

While there is certainly a genetic component to why these people live so long, we were curious about the dietary and lifestyle factors that might influence their longevity. We went out of our way looking for foods and beverages that are unique to Okinawa, and did our best to eat in as many traditional style restaurants as possible.

Fermented Turmeric Tea

One of the first things we noticed is that outside of downtown Okinawa (Naha), restaurants are shockingly difficult to find. This is because Okinawan’s prepare most of their food at home. In Ogimi, which was very underdeveloped and poor by normal 21st century standards, every home had a garden in the yard which seemed to be a chief source of food (along with sea vegetables and creatures). Interestingly, the most bustling part of the village was a central market dedicated to selling flowers. We found many of the happy citizens there, choosing bouquets from the fields of purple irises and yellow butterflies. They might not have a lot of money, but this place truly looked like paradise on earth.

Field of Irises

As you might expect we saw a fair amount of older people in Ogimi and around all of Okinawa (our cab driver we hired all day was in his high 70s). Though at first we assumed this was because there are more older individuals, we came to suspect that the real reason we were seeing them more often is because they appear far more active and engaged than older people in the US. Even people with crippling osteoporosis could be found browsing the local markets, undeterred by their disposition. Apparently they do not have a word for retirement.

Me and Ayaka Yamamoto

From a dietary perspective, there were several notable differences between Okinawa and mainland Japan. The first was vegetables. It wasn’t easy finding much green matter in Tokyo or Kyoto, but vegetables were plentiful in all Okinawan dishes.

Lunch in Naha

While lots of vegetables are served, the primary staples were goya (aka bittermelon), carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, daikon, rabe (a relative of broccoli), squash and a purple sweet potato known as ube.

Ube, Goya, Kabocha, Onion

Goya is the most common, and though its bitter aftertaste was a bit overwhelming at first, we quickly acclimated and learned to love the unusual vegetable.

Goya with Bonito Flakes

Another notable difference was the abundance of seaweed and seafood. I lost track of how many new sea veggies I tried, but all were awesome and probably filled with nutrients I’m not normally exposed to. We also ate a lot of shrimp, lobster, abalone and assorted fish.

Tropical Fish

The only other common animal products were pork and eggs.

Pig Face

There was also lots of tofu. (And yes, this tasted as gross as it looks.)

Fish on Tofu

My favorite new seaweed by far was umi budo (“sea grapes”). They tasted exactly like caviar, only vegetarian, and cooler looking. I wish so bad I could find these in San Francisco. I bet the chefs do as well.

Umi Budo

The best food experience we had on the island was at the restaurant of Ayaka Yamamoto (pictured with me above). Her restaurant was recommended to us by young Jiro, from the famed Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary (again, huge thanks to Tim Ferriss for translating and making this connection possible).

Well, at least I appreciated it.

She serves traditional Okinawan food and has a book on her philosophy of cooking with love.

Tempura Ube, Goya and Pork

Forget what this was, but it was tasty.

Miso Pork Belly (OMG yum)

Rice was notably lacking in the Okinawan diet. Though we had a few spoonfuls in the most traditional meal we ate at Yamamoto’s, it was a very small amount and the rice was brown instead of the usual white rice found in mainland Japan.

Brown Rice in Dashi

Okinawans rely more on the ube sweet potato for starch. “Soba” noodles (they didn’t look like buckwheat) are also common.

Okinawan Soba

Their diet wasn’t exactly sugar-free though. Okinawans are very proud of their brown sugar, which we all admitted was phenomenal.

Brown Sugar Tapioca

Many things have been suggested as the secret to Okinawan longevity: seafood, seaweed, bittermelon, fermented tofu, lack of rice, fermented turmeric tea (a common beverage), special Okinawan sea salts, brown sugar, awamori (their favorite liquor), and others. While they all likely contribute, all of us noticed that every aspect of the Okinawan lifestyle is healthier than anything we’d ever seen. Turns out that happy, active people who eat lots of home-cooked seafood and vegetables have a tendency to live a long time.

They also have giant lobsters.

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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 30, 2012

For The Love of Food

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

Before we get to this week’s top stories I want to announce that I’ll be out of the country for the next two weeks (going to Japan, suggestions welcome!) for my first non-work related vacation in about 5 years (woohoo!). I’ve worked hard to get a full two weeks of new blog posts scheduled for while I’m away, but unfortunately the Friday link posts and farmers market updates will have to wait until I get back.

This week, a wonderful (and true) fish story, lots of bad science, and some interesting news about diet soda.

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

Links of the week

 What inspired you this week?

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Can You Live Longer By Cutting Calories?

by | Mar 30, 2011

Photo by Werwin15

Photo by Werwin15

The science of aging is among the most dynamic and provocative in modern biology. Over the past two decades we have seen a virtual explosion in research investigating the molecular and behavioral systems that control the aging process. But the more researchers uncover about the science of aging, the more questions emerge.

Dietary restriction has long been considered the most potent regulator of aging. Restricting food intake by any means induces a series of metabolic changes in organisms from yeast to primates that serve to extend life. Studies are currently underway to investigate the ability of dietary restriction to extend life in humans.

Several biological changes are known to occur upon the onset of dietary restriction including a decline in reproductive ability, increased stress resistance and a slowdown of some metabolic processes.

Insulin signaling was among the first molecular pathways to be identified in the regulation of aging, and offered a direct tie between diet and the aging process.  In 1998 UCSF scientist Cynthia Kenyon showed that removing an insulin receptor gene (daf-2) in worms could double their lifespan. Her lab later showed that removing another insulin signaling gene (daf-16) could extend life even longer. I spoke to Kenyon about the relationship between diet and aging for this article.

Blocking insulin signaling in these worms did not just prevent the worms from dying and allow them to age longer. Instead the aging process actually slows so that older worms continue to behave like young worms. Also, as these experiments were repeated in different animals, it was shown that lowering insulin signaling also helps protect animals from stress and diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Insulin is released as a direct response to glucose in the blood. This means that any time you eat a meal with carbohydrates, you are increasing your insulin signaling and likely accelerating aging. But this does not mean that you will live forever if you stop eating carbohydrates.

Interestingly, protein metabolism also contributes to accelerated aging, but through a different mechanism. Even more intriguing is that restricting protein increases lifespan to a greater extent than restricting sugar.

So is it simply calories that promote aging?

Probably not. For one thing, the effect of a calorie from protein is greater than a calorie from carbohydrate, making it unlikely that a calorie is the basic unit of impact. Second, there is evidence that calories are not required to accelerate aging.

Recent studies have shown that the mere act of smelling food can reduce lifespan. The mechanism for this effect is still unknown, but seems to be tied to respiration.

According to Kenyon it is clear that “sensory perception influences lifespan,” at least in worms and flies.

Thus it is likely that aging is controlled by the interaction of several pathways, including metabolism, respiration and stress. Importantly, however, lifespan seems to be dependent on a handful of specific pathways rather than global changes in cellular function or breakdown. The idea that aging is an inevitable function of time must be put aside given the evidence that it is controlled at a genetic and environmental level.

This makes sense when you think about it. Different organisms exhibit vastly different lifespans and rates of aging that are too great to be explained by some kind of universal cellular breakdown. A more parsimonious hypothesis is that organisms differ in specific genetic factors that, combined with environmental influences, regulate lifespan.

So how should we mortal humans react to these findings?

The genes linking diet and aging are highly conserved through evolution, indicating that there is a great chance human aging is sensitive to diet. Indeed, insulin-related genes have been found to be important in long-lived human populations. This suggests that the pathways discovered in worms and other organisms have similar functions in humans.

What is not clear is how much influence diet has on lifespan and to what extent we are able to manipulate it. It is already known that abnormal insulin activity in humans is linked to higher disease rates, especially “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and cancer. And these diseases are clearly associated with diets rich in processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates.

The effect of protein consumption on lifespan in humans has yet to be investigated. Envisioning an experiment that would test the influence of smelling food on human aging is difficult to even imagine.

Although direct evidence is not available, there is good reason to suspect that a diet with low glycemic load may extend human lifespan. In November 2009, Kenyon’s lab reported that adding glucose to a worm’s normal diet shortens lifespan, but has no effect on the long-lived worms that lack insulin signaling genes daf-2 and daf-16. This discovery prompted Kenyon herself to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet.

Despite this there is still not sufficient evidence to recommend a calorie restricted diet for humans to extend life, largely because optimal nutrition levels for a given individual are unknown. However, most people would benefit vastly by eliminating processed foods and refined carbohydrates from their diets as much as possible.

Focusing on fresh, whole foods, enjoying an occasional glass of wine, avoiding smoking and getting regular exercise can add 14 years to the life of an average person. Maintain a healthy weight as well and your outlook gets even better.

Would you change your diet to be healthier and live longer?

Originally published February 3, 2010.

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