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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Michael Pollan talks shrooms, fish more toxic than ever, and perfect poached eggs

by | May 11, 2018

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

This week Michael Pollan talks shrooms, fish more toxic than ever, and perfect poached eggs.

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.

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For the Love of Food

by | Feb 6, 2015
For The Love of Food

For The Love of Food

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

This week the mirror makes you overeat, a huge supplement scandal, and the birth of “science milk”… mmmm.

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

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

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For the Love of Food

by | Oct 4, 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.

This week thinking too hard ruins our workouts, environmental toxins threaten pregnant women and why Big Food hates Chipotle.

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 | Nov 18, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

Lots of talk this week about the pros and cons of local foods. Also, congress says pizza is a vegetable, heritage turkeys are the greatest thing since bacon and coffee/tea may reduce your risk of mercury exposure from fish.

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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For The Love Of Food

by | Mar 25, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

The internet was overflowing with nutrition BS this week. It’s so often the same issue, people mistaking one special case for general health and safety. But the body is complicated and there is always more to consider. I also found some great articles defending salt and olive oil, and a brilliant demonstration of why portions matter.

I read many more wonderful articles than I post here each week. If you’d like to see more or just don’t want to wait until Friday, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@summertomato) or the Summer Tomato Facebook fan page. For a complete list of my favorite stories check out my links on Digg. 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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Fishing For Answers: How To Choose Fish and Seafood

by | Dec 8, 2010

By sektordua

By sektordua

“This is a request for a Summer Tomato series on fish, and seafood in general. This topic is even more difficult to navigate than organic vs. non-organic and it would be great to learn about it in detail.”

I don’t think there is anything more complicated in the food world than fish and seafood. There are so many life or death issues it’s enough to make you want to close your eyes, plug your ears and live out the rest of your life in a cave on Mars.

But this isn’t really one of those issues we can ignore.

Fish and Your Health

There’s no denying it, fish is good for you.

The latest data I’ve read suggests that vegetarians have more cancer than fish eaters, though both have less cancer than meat eaters. There are also well-documented and significant heart and brain benefits associated with seafood consumption.

Omega-3 fatty acids are usually given the credit for the heart-healthy benefits of fish. The most beneficial omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), as well as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are only found in seafood. Vegetarian forms of omega-3s including α-Linolenic acid (ALA) can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but the conversion rate is very low and likely insufficient.

Personally I think healthy eating is a lot more difficult if you do not eat fish. (Please direct mild-tempered disagreements to the comments below). Yes, you can be healthy if you are vegetarian or vegan, but it is much more work in my opinion.

The fish and health issue seems to be even more important (and more complicated) for pregnant women. Children of mothers who eat less seafood during pregnancy score lower on cognitive tests than those whose mothers ate the most fish. But at the same time, mercury contamination is a serious concern for pregnant women that requires special attention. Mercury is toxic to neurodevelopment and can injure a developing fetus.

Mercury contamination has in fact become so common that regular, non-pregnant consumers also need to be concerned. Recent testing in New York City revealed that most of the top sushi restaurants serve fish that exceeds the FDA safety recommendations for mercury.

Another health and fish issue is polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These things are all sorts of bad for you. I’ve written extensively on mercury and PCB contamination in fish over at Synapse.

For more on omega-3s, mercury, PCBs and the whole mess, Marion Nestle’s What To Eat is a good resource.

For health, the basic guidelines I follow include:

  • Eat fish 2-3 times per week.
  • Avoid large fish that accumulate mercury like tuna, shark and swordfish.
  • Avoid farmed fish that contain PCBs.
  • Seek fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines.
  • Avoid fresh water fish caught by friends. Lakes and rivers are almost all contaminated with high mercury levels.
  • Enjoy vegetarian omega-3 fatty acid sources such as walnuts, flax and soy.

I don’t take omega-3 supplements, but it is an alternative if you do not eat enough fish. Be sure to get supplements derived from marine sources (and don’t take them before interacting with other humans–icky burps).

All that, and we haven’t even touched on the environmental sustainability issues yet.

*deep breath*

*exhale*

Ok.

Fish and the Environment

I’m going to start with the disclaimer that I am NOT EVEN ALMOST an expert in this stuff. I read about it sometimes and keep up with the basics, but environmental issues aren’t my expertise.

That being said, it is not clear that anyone understands the true damage that the fishing industry is doing to either the environment or the future of the fishing industry. The outlook is not good, but it does seem that there are a few groups that are aware of the problems and taking actions to improve the situation.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, the group I trust most in these matters, recently issued The State of Seafood Report if you’d like to read more.

New York Times food writer and author of Fish: The Complete Guide To Buying and Cooking, Mark Bittman, chimed in on the issue a few months ago in an article explaining the nearly impossible task of choosing fish these days.

To make matters worse, a new report suggests that many eco-friendly fish labels aren’t exactly accurate.

It’s difficult to say how to handle seafood sustainability and I certainly do not have all the answers, but I’ll tell you what I do.

Things I consider when buying and eating fish for sustainability:

  • Buy from trusted sources. Since I personally cannot keep up on all the fish sustainability issues, I am sure to shop at places that do. Most small, high-end seafood vendors in San Francisco do a good job of at least telling you where their fish comes from, and will often include sustainability labels.
  • Shop at Whole Foods. Though they aren’t perfect, Whole Foods does a great job of labeling the origin of their animal products. This is leaps and bounds over most grocery stores.
  • Eat wild Alaskan salmon. The Alaskan fishing regulations are mostly sustainable. I’ve heard this challenged, but Alaskan is still superior to Atlantic or farmed salmon. Did you know that all farmed salmon is dyed pink? Eeeew.
  • Eat sardines. These little guys are sustainable, healthy and delicious. I prefer fresh sardines, but I even enjoy the boneless skinless sardines from cans. Pair with dry-as-a-bone white wine. Yum yum.
  • Never, ever eat bluefin tuna. These magnificent animals are on the verge of extinction. Don’t do it!
  • Eat fish at responsible restaurants. In SF, many of the high-end restaurants proudly label the origin of their fish on the menu. This is not always true, however, especially in Japanese restaurants. Nobu in Manhattan is still serving bluefin tuna.
  • Never shop at Asian fish markets. Cheap fish = bad news. Sorry. I know a lot of people rely on these, but personally I do not trust them. Many of the fish sold at these stores are shipped in from China (if they deny it they are likely lying to you). Remember when China was putting poison in baby formula? Don’t assume the fish from there is either safe or sustainable.
  • Avoid tuna. Do you still order maguro (tuna) at sushi restaurants? How boring and unethical. Try getting something that you’ve never heard of that may be less likely to be over-fished. And don’t be afraid to ask where it came from.
  • Ask the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When in doubt, visit their Super Green List for the best seafood choices at the moment.

Shellfish

Interestingly, shellfish are common on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s best choices list. The reason for this is that many kinds of shellfish can be farmed sustainably with very little environmental impact. This is good news, but doesn’t make shellfish a perfect choice.

Oysters, scallops and shrimp are still among the most common sources of food poisoning in the U.S. every year. Oysters alone are responsible for 15 deaths annually. That means your sources for these items are just as important as they are for any other fish, but mostly for your own protection.

The biggest issue is usually refrigeration (but it is not always), so your best bet is to go with trusted sources that are not likely to skimp on costs and resources. Better yet, buy them live and prepare them yourself.

Taste and Other Adventures

As important as all these issues are, the dominant thought in the back of my mind is always: I love seafood, can I have some?

And yes, sometimes this thought wins out over health, environment and sustainability. But I really do try to do the right thing as often as possible, because I want to continue enjoying seafood for many, many more years.

It is not uncommon to hear these days that we could lose our fishing industries within my lifetime, and no one wants that.

No matter how much we want to deny these issues, they effect us all. Even vegetarians have an interest in preserving the oceans and wild fish populations, since entire ecosystems are dependent upon them.

This is one place where we all need to do our part and be conscientious consumers.

Please share your thoughts, this stuff is complicated!

Originally published November 4, 2009.

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6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

by | Apr 28, 2010
sardines

Photo by rockyeda

I’m happy to introduce my friend and fellow sardine lover, Benjy Weinberger. Neither of us were particularly happy about the recent news of the last US sardine cannery closing, so I invited Benjy here to defend the honor of one of my favorite sea creatures.

Benjy Weinberger has been eating food for over 30 years, and has held strong opinions for almost as long.

Read his personal blog: http://jamknife.blogspot.com/
Follow him on Twitter: @benjyw

Yes, We Can! Why We Should Be Eating More Sardines

The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned.
– John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

A few days ago we were told the last sardine cannery in the US closed its doors for good. A symbol, so the story goes, of how far sardines–once a staple of working-class pantries across the nation–have fallen out of favor with the American palate.

But if you get past the bad “last sardine factory canned” puns, this narrative starts to seem, ahem, fishy. Because, in fact, the sardine is like Bad Company, alive, well and making a comeback.

Fresh sardines are showing up on menus in restaurants from San Francisco to New York. Your local supermarket still offers plenty of canned sardine choices, albeit imported. In Monterey, California, where Steinbeck romanticized the sardine industry in Cannery Row, a group of self-styled “Sardinistas” is working to return the sardine to its rightful place in the American diet. Meanwhile, nearby, small-scale gourmet canning operations have resumed. So it seems the supposed death of the sardine industry has been exaggerated.

So what are sardines, exactly? The term means slightly different things in different countries, but in the US it denotes any of several species of small, oily, silvery fish related to herring.

What all types of sardine have in common is that we should be eating a lot more of them.

6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

1. They’re good for you.

Sardines pack an awesome nutritional punch. A single serving has around 23 grams of protein and is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and potassium, and only 200 calories. And even with canned sardines, all this goodness comes with only around 400 mg of sodium, which is relatively little for a canned product. Plus, they’re often packed in olive oil, itself an important component of a healthy diet.

2. They aren’t bad for you.

Sardines are low on the oceanic food chain, and therefore contain low amounts of mercury, PCBs and the other toxins that accumulate in longer-living marine predators such as salmon and tuna. This makes them a particularly good choice for children and pregnant women.

3. They’re sustainably fished.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWATCH rates sardines as a “Best Choice”. Sardine stocks are, once again, abundant, healthy and are now well-managed.

4. They’re affordable.

Prices per oz. of canned sardines are on a par with canned tuna, poultry, ground beef and other supermarket protein sources. Prices of fresh sardines vary with availability, but they are usually among the less expensive fresh fish on display.

5. They taste like fish.

In a supermarket landscape dominated by bland, artificially dyed salmon fillets, pale tuna steaks, frozen fish sticks, artificial crab meat and other attempts to sell seafood as generic chicken-like protein slabs to people who aren’t sure if they actually like it, sardines stand out. You simply can’t ignore the fact that they are, well, fish. They look like fish, being too small to fillet or grind up. They smell like fish. They are oily. They have heads and tails, scales and bones. And they taste fishy.

This is, as most people who genuinely enjoy food know, a good thing.

6. They’re delicious.

This is ultimately the most important point in favor of consuming more sardines: they are a pleasure to eat. Simple, easy to prepare and downright delicious.

If you get your hands on some fresh sardines, they feature in fabulous recipes originating from all over the Mediterranean basin. But sardines are so simple and basic, you really don’t need a recipe to get the best out of them. Just scale and gut them, brush them lightly with olive oil and coarse sea salt, or whatever marinade you make up, grill them for around 5 minutes per side, until the skin is crispy, and serve them up with a drizzle of lemon juice and your favorite fresh herbs.

And if you can’t be fussed to cook, there are few pleasures greater than mashing canned sardines, bones and all, onto buttered toast, or perhaps over a slice of camembert.

The sardine is dead. Long live the sardine!

What are your favorite sardine recipes?

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High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contaminated With Mercury

by | Jan 27, 2009

I swear, it is too early for April Fool’s Day and this headline is not a joke. I wish it were.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy reports that two new U.S. studies have found detectable levels of mercury in 55 brand name foods made with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS, from three different manufacturers).

Mercury is a potent toxin that effects the brain and nervous system. It is particularly dangerous for developing children and is associated with learning disabilities and other neurological problems. Because mercury has a particularly long half-life in the human body, women of childbearing age should also avoid mercury.

What upsets me the most about this finding is that these are the kinds of products that are directly marketed toward children.

Maybe you have heard of some of these:

  • Quaker Oatmeal to Go
  • Coca-Cola Classic
  • Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt
  • Minute Maid Berry Punch
  • Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
  • Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
  • Nutri‐Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
  • Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
  • Pop‐Tarts Frosted Blueberry

For the complete list of contaminated products, click here.

The author of one report is careful to point out that this is “just a snap shot in time,” because they only tested one sample from each product. I hardly find this reassuring, however, since their analysis was also limited to the handful of products they selected and does not tell us about everything else on the grocery store shelves.

At this point we have no way of knowing which products contain mercury and which do not. What we do know is that all of them contain high-fructose corn syrup and are products of our industrialized food system.

I’m starting to wonder, how many outbreaks and contamination scares does it take to screw in a light bulb? That is, the idea light bulb within our federal government that asks,

“Maybe we should take steps to improve the safety and nutritional value of our nation’s food supply?”

Crazy thought, I know.

Keep in mind we are not even talking about the colossal damage these products do to our health and economy without mercury.

Are fresh, natural foods that grow from the ground such a ludicrous alternative?

Please share your thoughts, this topic always baffles me.

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FDA Revises Fish Recommendations: Is Something Fishy?

by | Dec 17, 2008

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is asking the White House to amend its own previous warnings that children and pregnant women avoid seafood for fear of mercury poisoning, the Washington Post reports. The agency argues that the neurological benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and other minerals are worth the risk of mercury poisoning.

But not everyone is happy about this.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other consumer advocate organizations are outraged by the proposed change, accusing the FDA of catering to fishing industries and ignoring public health. The EPA has called the FDA document “scientifically flawed and inadequate” and an “oversimplification” of the health concerns involved.

There is a large body of scientific evidence that mercury can cause problems in the developing nervous system, so the new recommendations would have to be careful to educate consumers about both the positive and negative aspects of consuming more fish.

I have not seen the report myself, so I cannot pass judgement immediately. However, as I have explained in Synapse the dynamics of fish consumption and mercury contamination are very complicated, particularly for children and pregnant women.

My advice is to be careful with fish regardless of what the FDA report says. While it is extremely important to consume adequate omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin D from fish sources, mercury contamination is a serious concern that should not be overlooked.

To get the maximum benefit from fish and minimize mercury consumption

  • Eat fish at least twice per week
  • Avoid large fish such as tuna, shark and swordfish
  • Seek fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
  • Take vitamin D and omega-3 supplements (fish oil based) when fish is not available
  • Enjoy vegetarian sources of omega-3s like soy, flax and walnuts

Recently I have been experimenting with canned sardines and anchovies and they are much better than I expected them to be. I also enjoy canned salmon as well as smoked salmon or lox (but watch your nitrate intake!). If you can afford it, fresh fish is always wonderful.

Do any of you have strong opinions about the FDA report or know if it is available to the public yet?

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