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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Salt may help with weight loss, grass-fed beef gets an upgrade, and a new blood sugar regulation mechanism

by | May 12, 2017

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

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

This week salt may help with weight loss, grass-fed beef gets an upgrade, and a new blood sugar regulation mechanism.

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: Low-carb fails the test, you don’t need 10K steps, and a new brain region involved in appetite control

by | Oct 21, 2016
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 low-carb fails the test, you don’t need 10K steps, and a new brain region involved in appetite control.

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 »

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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: Soup is the new juice, BPA-free plastics still dangerous, and how to lose 160 lbs without dieting

by | Feb 5, 2016
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 soup is the new juice, BPA-free plastics still dangerous, and how to lose 160 lbs without dieting.

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 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.

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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD: The truth about MSG, hacking your memories for weight loss, and the double standard in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines

by | Jan 15, 2016
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 truth about MSG, hacking your memories for weight loss, and the double standard in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

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 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.

Read the rest of this story »

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How To Eat Dessert And Still Stay Skinny

by | Jun 20, 2012

Photo by E.Baron

Cutting processed foods and refined sugars out of your diet is arguably the most important dietary change you can make to improve health and lose weight. But will one slice of birthday cake inevitably tighten your pants and cut your life short?

Not necessarily.

Quality of life is hard to measure, but it certainly involves some balance between good health and hedonistic enjoyment of things that might not be perfectly healthy. The question is how we find this balance for ourselves, and how do we make sure our behavior helps us keep that balance?

The answer, of course, will be different for everyone. Competitive athletes have higher physical demands for maintaining ideal health than, say, a scientist. And I’m not a fan of watering down my favorite foods—especially desserts—with “healthier” ingredients. But there are a few general guidelines that can help the majority of us live a little without constantly fighting the battle of the bulge.

9 Tips For Dealing With Dessert

1. Eat dessert once per week or less

As a general rule I try to keep my dessert consumption to once per week or less (it is often less). A larger person may be able to get away with a bit more, but setting a weekly maximum can help you keep tabs on your sugar consumption. If you are actively trying to lose weight, aiming for once every two weeks or less is ideal.

Sugar is problematic for several reasons. Most of you probably realize by now that excess sugar causes rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes that force extra calories to be stored as fat. Over time these spikes will alter your sensitivity to insulin, negatively impacting your metabolism and risk of type 2 diabetes. Extra insulin signaling is also associated with heart disease, high blood pressure and accelerated aging.

The less refined sugar you eat the better, but assuming most of us aren’t willing to give it up completely it is helpful to have a weekly maximum to keep consumption in a reasonable range.

2. Pick your occasions

Once you decide to budget your sugar consumption, it is time to start choosing your priorities.

Is your weekly group meeting at the office (the one where there’s always doughnuts) really a special occasion? In other words, is that stale chocolate doughnut you wolf down while half asleep really worth the extra workout or skipping dessert with your kids this weekend? Probably not.

If you think about it, there’s a good chance you don’t even enjoy that doughnut as much as you assume you do. And we both know you’ll feel horrible after eating it anyway. So why do you believe that you want it?

When you stop and really think about your food choices, you’ll often find that many of them come from conditioning rather than true preference. But just because 12-year old you liked low-quality sweets doesn’t mean the adult you has to continue eating them.

Save desserts for the times that are really worth it, and realize you aren’t missing much by skipping the Costco brownie bites.

3. Don’t eat dessert alone

Special occasions are moments of celebration you share with people you care about. One of the wonderful things about life is these moments happen all the time. Our weeks and months are perpetually marked by birthdays, weddings, promotions, vacations and a million other reasons to celebrate. Use these special times as cues for when to indulge.

On the other hand, there is nothing particularly special about sitting alone on your couch watching TV. Try to get out of the habit of eating dessert alone, especially if this is something you rely on for comfort. If you just want something sweet, try having a piece of fruit or some herbal tea instead.

I recommend not keeping any pre-made desserts in the house at all. Why torture yourself?

4. Know dessert when you see it

If you’re eating dessert several times a day but only think you are eating it once or twice per week, none of these rules are going to help you maintain your health and physique.

I’ve written before about the hidden sugars in common foods such as sandwiches, salads and fruit yogurts. There are clearly benefits to eating a salad, but syrupy dressings contribute to your sugar intake whether there is lettuce around or not. Overly sweet non-dessert foods make it more difficult for you to enjoy real indulgences without consequences.

Be aware of the sugar content in the foods you eat and actively try to minimize it in the bulk of your diet (i.e. choose sandwiches without teriyaki or BBQ sauce, salads with savory (not sweet) dressing, cocktails without juice or syrup, and plain yogurt).

If you’re eating healthy and minimizing sugar 90+% of the time, your waist will hardly notice the occasional birthday cupcake.

5. Little indulgences count

Just as you cannot ignore the 27 grams of sugar in Yoplait yogurt, you can’t grab 2 or 3 pieces of candy every afternoon from the bowl in the office without it adding up.

Be aware of the little cheats you make throughout the week and don’t kid yourself about their impact. If you decide that the work day is just too hard to get through without these, that’s fine. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors by pretending they don’t exist. Remember to count them in your mental dessert tally and keep it in mind when you’re looking lustfully at your grandma’s homemade apple pie and wishing you hadn’t had so much sugar this week.

6. Choose quality over quantity

If your goal is to limit your sweets but you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out, make sure your choices emphasize quality over quantity.

A few bites of good quality dark chocolate is infinitely more satisfying than a handful of Hershey’s kisses. Desserts can rack up 25-50 calories per bite. Get the most bang for your buck by picking foods with actual flavor and not just extra sugar and salt.

Hint: This tip should also help you stick to tips #2 and #5.

7. Go splitsies

Half a dessert is 100% better for you than a whole dessert.

If you really really want to try one of those cookies your co-worker has been bragging about for months but have already had your ice cream this week, try taking only half of one. Better yet, find someone to split it with you so you aren’t tempted to finish it. If it’s that good, a few bites should be plenty satisfying.

8. Resist peer pressure

Some people take a special pleasure in encouraging others to do things they know are bad for them. These people also tend to be good at recruiting others to join in their banter.

Be prepared to get nagged occasionally for not wanting to eat foods that aren’t worth it. But if you have decided in advance to stick to desserts you know taste better than what your friends are pushing, it really isn’t that hard to ignore them.

Who’s really missing out here?

9. Use the gym

Despite our best efforts, we all eat too much dessert every now and then. This isn’t good, but it isn’t the end of the world either.

When this happens to me I use it as an opportunity to amp up my workout routine. By far my best runs are on days when we have birthday cake in lab–I feel like I can run for days with all my extra energy.

Your muscles use sugar as fuel, so use it up while you can and give your metabolism a little boost (having a little extra blood sugar and insulin around when you’re exercising can actually improve your metabolism) and prevent those spare calories from being stored as fat.

You’ll probably feel better after working it off too.

How do you deal with dessert in your healthstyle?

Originally published March 31, 2010
StumbleUpon.com

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For The Love Of Food

by | Sep 9, 2011

For The Love of Food

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

This week’s top 10 require careful reading and a little extra thinking, but it’s worth it. Learn why daily activity is more important than formal exercise, how habits can affect your food intake, some encouraging news from the USDA and more.

Want to see all my favorite links? Be sure to follow me on on Digg. I also share links on Twitter (@summertomato) and the Summer Tomato Facebook fan 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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Office Hours: Sugar Toxicity + The Latest on Saturated Fat & Heart Disease [video]

by | Apr 22, 2011

For those of you who haven’t been following along with the Tomato Slice newsletter, I recently launched a segment called Office Hours where I make myself available to take any questions subscribers may have.

This week I held a special Office Hours to discuss 2 articles from last week’s For The Love Of Food post:

  1. Is Sugar Toxic? by Gary Taubes
  2. The latest scientific consensus on saturated fat and heart disease

Since I had so many questions on these papers, I recorded the session and posted it above.

If you’d like to know more about the sugar article, I also recommend Dr. Lustig’s YouTube video mentioned in the article, as well as his interview this week on KQED which I’ve included below.

Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments.

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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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Book Review: Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes

by | Mar 2, 2011

I hadn’t planned on writing a formal review of Gary Taubes’ latest book, Why We Get Fat, because I already wrote an extensive review of his first book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and the messages (and my criticisms) are basically the same. But after finishing the book I think Taubes is worth revisiting.

My biggest problem with Taubes’ first book is that it was very difficult to read, and that of course means most people won’t finish it. In Why We Get Fat Taubes repackages the data in a way that is much more logical and easy to digest. The book is substantially shorter, and is mostly free of the rants and tirades that peppered Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Instead, Why We Get Fat takes the reader through a clear and concise explanation of why all calories are not created equal, and that carbohydrates are the reason for the vast majority of the health and weight problems plaguing modern civilization. He also does a fantastic job demolishing the currently prevailing hypothesis that dietary fat and blood cholesterol are the causes of heart disease. They aren’t.

That so few people understand these points is why I recommend everyone read this book. It breaks my heart every time someone writes to me for nutrition advice and proudly points to their butter-less popcorn or baked chips as proof of their already “healthy” diet. Until it becomes common knowledge that fat is good for you and processed carbohydrates are the worst thing you can eat, I think this book is the best resource we have to explain it.

Still I do not agree 100% with Taubes’ conclusions. Though I do think the evidence is overwhelming that all calories are not created equal, I disagree that calories therefore do not matter and cannot be manipulated to help with weight loss. Taubes argues that how much we eat is dependent on our hormone levels (specifically insulin levels) that regulate energy balance, and that depending on this balance we naturally regulate our feeding and energy expenditure (exercise) so that we maintain our weight.

Taubes makes a compelling case that severe calorie restriction is counterproductive in weight management, and I agree. However there is some evidence that a small calorie deficit, on the order of 100-200 calories per day, is within the range of our natural homeostatic mechanisms and can be effective at controlling body weight.

In his book, Why We Eat More Than We Think (another must-read), Brian Wansink explores study after study where environmental cues are manipulated to get people to eat either significantly more, or significantly less than they believed. Importantly, the participants never reported any difference in satiation no matter how much they ate. Wansink argues that people can make small dietary changes resulting in a moderate 100-200 calorie per day deficit that does not affect hunger levels and can be used to effectively control weight.

Similarly, in The End of Overeating (here’s my review) Dr. David Kessler discusses how eating can become uncoupled from hunger when it is associated with external cues, making a strong case that some of us really do eat more than we need to. I think many of Kessler’s points about overeating are valid, particularly for emotional eaters. His argument is further strengthened by individual case studies of people who learn to eat less without experiencing sensations of starvation that are predicted by Taubes. One such example is Frank Bruni’s book Born Round (my review), in which he overcomes his weight struggles by moving to Italy and changing his relationship with food. Bruni is able to maintain his weight even after accepting the job of food critic at the New York Times.

These accounts conflict with Taubes’ argument that people overeat to satisfy a caloric deficit caused by a carbohydrate-induced faulty metabolism. Though there is good reason to believe Taubes’ metabolic hypothesis accounts for a large part of the health issues in today’s society, I think it is premature to conclude that this is the only force at work in why we get fat. Indeed, some research suggests learned feeding cues can directly impact insulin and metabolic pathways even in the absence of food. This data does not refute Taubes’ hypothesis, but rather makes it more complicated than he implies.

Even if we assume Taubes’ metabolic theory accounts for the majority of our health problems, insulin response (the ultimate cause of fat accumulation) should also be affected by eating rate and exercise, and vary among individuals. However Taubes handedly dismisses the possibility that any behavioral modification other than carbohydrate restriction can impact metabolic function because, he argues, we will modify our physical activity to adjust for any nutritional changes. His case is compelling, but not air tight, and my interpretation is that while carbohydrate consumption is clearly very important, there are likely other factors that may also be helpful in controlling metabolism and body weight.

In his book The 4-Hour Body (my review), Tim Ferriss describes how WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg lost 18 pounds by simply chewing each bite of food 20 times. Extra chewing or “masticating” was made popular as a weight loss technique in the late 1800s by Horace Fletcher and is explored in Gina Kolata’s book Rethinking Thin (not a particularly good read). Extended chewing and eating slowly are both effective at inducing weight loss, likely because they slow the glycemic response and almost always result in decreased meal size.

One of the most interesting points made in The 4-Hour Body was Ferriss’ personal glycemic response to a low-carbohydrate diet of just meat and vegetables. He claims that even with this meal he could easily spike his glucose to over 150 mg/dL (this is very high) by simply eating quickly, and that this effect could be controlled by slowing down and taking a full 30 minutes to finish a meal. Unfortunately I could not find a similar experiment in the scientific literature, but Ferriss’ observation suggests that behavioral modification can have a powerful impact on metabolic response independent of diet composition.

My final complaint about Why We Get Fat is that Taubes never considers that individual variation may preclude his theory from applying to everyone. He suggests that while some people are genetically blessed with a higher tolerance for carbohydrates, others will only thrive on an almost zero carbohydrate diet. Unfortunately this is the one part of the book he does not provide data to back up his assertions.

Though Taubes frequently argues the importance of paying attention to outliers, he never explores the possibility that some individuals may actually do better (rather than less bad) on a diet with slightly more carbohydrates. (Let’s assume for now that I mean slowly digesting, natural carbohydrates and not highly processed sugars and grains.) In a healthy person there is no reason to assume that such a diet would induce insulin resistance, and there may be some additional advantage outside of metabolic health for including such foods. I don’t think this is a possibility we should dismiss without solid evidence.

To summarize, Taubes does an excellent job describing the importance of carbohydrates in both weight management and health but oversimplifies the science, particularly neglecting the importance of behavioral factors on metabolism. However, the analysis presented in Why We Get Fat is still the most clear explanation of the relationship between metabolism and health that I’ve found and is an invaluable resource for the general public.

What did you think of Taubes’ latest book?

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Does Fruit Make You Fat and Old?

by | Jul 14, 2010
Mango Vendor in Bangkok

Mango Vendor in Bangkok

Several readers have asked lately about the impact of fruit–specifically the sugar in fruit–and it’s capacity to cause weight gain and accelerate aging through insulin signaling:

“Do people usually gain weight because of eating fruit and does the sugar in fruit age us?  I just hate to think that I am doing my body harm by eating fruit.”

If this question sounds insane to you, it shouldn’t. It is actually a very reasonable query that was sparked by two Summer Tomato articles, one about saving money while eating healthy and another on calorie restriction, aging and quality of life. In the first article I recommend thinking of fruit as dessert, a treat to be enjoyed once or twice per day. The second article is about the impact of sugar and calories on aging.

Body Weight

The fact is that fruit contains a lot more sugar than other natural foods and in large enough quantities it can contribute to weight gain. But fruit is certainly not bad for you, nor is it worse for your health than anything else in life.

The sugar in fruit contributes calories to your diet, but since you need calories to survive fruit is still a very good choice. The reason is that in addition to sugar (fructose, to be specific) fruit also has vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and many other things that contribute to health and possibly slow aging.

On the rare occasions when I do make an effort to lose a little weight, however, remembering that fruit should be dessert is something I keep in the back of my mind. I eat fruit every day, but when trying to lose weight I keep it under two servings and always choose whole fruit–avoiding anything blended or juiced. (Drinking calories is usually a bad idea.)

But this healthstyle tactic is not for everyone.

Why?

Unlike most people trying to lose weight, I already have a very healthy diet and fruit is one of the easiest places I can trim calories without feeling deprived. Cutting out things like fat and protein make dieting very difficult because you are always hungry. In my experience reducing unnecessary carbohydrates–especially sugars–is the easiest and healthiest way to lose weight.

But it is essential to remember most people are not overweight because they eat too much fruit and the vast majority of people would benefit from eating more of it.

Aging

The question about whether sugar causes aging is a fascinating one that I am very interested in.

Yes, in most organisms eating sugar has been shown to promote aging, but this has not been proven in humans. Sugar induces aging via the insulin signaling pathway, so therefore any food that increases insulin signaling could theoretically accelerate aging. The problem is that you need insulin to survive–those who cannot produce insulin have a disease called type 1 diabetes.

The good news is that eating a diet that minimizes insulin signaling is also the best way to lose weight and stay healthy, so if you are living a healthy lifestyle (one that includes fruit) you do not need to worry about anything else.

Although fruits have sugar, it is extremely unlikely that they accelerate aging. In fact, most evidence suggests that fruit slows aging because of its high levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

If anti-aging is your goal, fruit is your friend not your enemy.

For more on insulin signaling, check out my post at MizFit Online, When is a calorie not a calorie.

Conclusion

While fruits contain sugar, they do not pose a special threat to your health goals. Eat and enjoy fruits as a wonderful and delicious part of life.

How much fruit do you eat?

Originally published August 31, 2009.

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