Farmers Market Finds: Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes

I’ve been to the grocery store at least four times this past week. I know, it sounds ridiculous right? It wasn’t because I hadn’t planned properly or was cooking up a storm each night. I started a new job as the nutrition and culinary instructor for Mission High School’s summer school program. I am teaching a total of 150 students each week basic nutrition and cooking skills. It really is a great program to introduce these students to concepts delicious yet healthy foods. Last week, the students made kale and goat cheese frittatas and strawberry protein smoothies. I have to admit, I got a little ambitious introducing kale and goat cheese to the students at once on the first day of class. Most of them did not know what kale was and some of them were really grossed out by the fact that goat cheese comes from goats. Lesson learned.

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This week, I am going to teach them the importance of reading labels and choosing foods with as few ingredients as possible. Instead of using canned or bottled pasta sauce, they can make their own sauces and pestos from scratch using local, fresh ingredients. I bought cherry tomatoes and the ingredients to make basil pesto from the farmers market today. I will try to Instagram how everything turns out tomorrow during break or after class.

20130609-161311.jpgMy trunk full of tomatoes and ingredients for Monday’s meal.

Even though its been super windy and miserably gray in San Francisco, the farmers market is full of bright colors. I love to get a bag of mixed salad greens from Happy Boy Farms, because they always top the bag with edible flowers. Edible flowers also contain antioxidant properties.

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Reasons To Include More Vibrant Vegetables In Your Life

carrots

Food has always been regarded as medicine in cultures throughout the world. People reached for plants, vegetables, and even animal proteins to cure ailments. Food was the first source people went to before seeking other kinds of treatments. With the advantages and brainwashing of convenience food, we  forget what is essential for us to maintain and improve health. As pointed out by many scientists and doctors, our health became complicated with the introduction of packaged and processed foods, overproduction of wheat, corn, and soy, and the industrialization of meat, poultry, and dairy.

The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of highly processed meats and wheat. Americans are over-consuming food with little nutritional benefits and not consuming enough of whole foods- mostly vegetables. The SAD diet has no room for fresh, whole foods and has lead to the rise of Western Diseases– breast cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The dependency of processed foods is also giving rise to allergies and sensitivities to foods like wheat and diary.

All of us need to eat more vegetables for good health, weight loss, and reversing diseases. I am not advocating vegetarianism. What I am saying is that the more vegetables and plant-based foods you consume daily will have the most positive impact on your health. The best possible sources of obtaining micronutrients that your body needs to function healthily come from plant-based foods. Vegetables are grown on a farm, not manufactured in a lab, and do not require a degree to figure out that they are good for you.

Plant foods are complex systems and are the best sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. These nutrients have hundreds of roles in the body. Our body uses them to make hormones, send nerve impulses, maintain bone and teeth strength, bolster the immune system, prevent cell and tissue damage, increase digestion and absorption, and maintain a normal heartbeat.

Examples of minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and sodium.  Minerals are mostly found in plant foods and are essential for healthy minds and bodies. Minerals are not vulnerable to heat and cooking does not destroy them. It is much easier to obtain minerals from food than vitamins. Vitamins are easily destroyed due to heat and storage duration. Examples of vitamins include vitamins A, B, C, D, E, K, and carotenoids. Vitamins and minerals depend on each other to be useful. For example, vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption from food. Similarly, too much of one nutrient can cause a deficiency of another nutrient, since they can interfere with each other’s function. Though, this is rarely the case when you eat varied, whole foods.

Vegetables come in a vibrant array of colors, not just green. These colors signify the type of vitamins and antioxidants are present in them. Purple foods have the antioxidant anthocyanins, which is prevents aging, boost memory, and fights off diseases like Alzheimer’s. Red foods include strawberries, pomegranates, and tomatoes. These foods are known to prevent cancer, reduce pain and inflammation, and lower blood pressure.  Orange foods include pumpkins, bell peppers, and carrots. These foods are high in vitamin C and beat-carotene, which help support the immune system, delay cognitive aging, and rebuild collagen in the skin. In order to ensure you are getting all of these different nutrients, you have to eat a variety of foods. Sticking to just a few vegetables throughout the year will make you loose out on the benefits other plant-based foods offer. Eating a varied, vibrant diet is the best way to get sufficient amounts of the vitamins and minerals your body needs.

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It is pretty difficult to overdose on micronutrients that come from whole, unprocessed foods since they contain low levels.  We only need miniscule amounts of them, hence the name micronutrients. On the contrary, supplements may contain fillers and additives, and come in high dosages that can be harmful. Many supplements also contain contaminants such as arsenic and mercury. Our body stores certain nutrients and releases them as needed, thus toxic levels can build up. Dietary supplements are unregulated and do not have to go through testing for safety. Supplements are not intended to replace whole foods, but support people with certain conditions who just cannot get all the nutrients. It is wise to talk to a doctor or nutritionist before taking supplements. Whole foods are complex and contain many nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber that a pill cannot provide. Vegetables are also a lot more affordable than quality supplements.

Pesticide exposure is linked to many health concerns and should not be overlooked. Though, the health benefits of vegetables outweigh the alternative of not eating them at all. Nutrient deficiencies from the lack of vegetables are also the cause of many health issues. Fresh, whole foods are often replaced with processed foods when they are eliminated from the diet, causing more health troubles. I recommend choosing food from sustainable farms. If you are not sure about where or how the food is grown, opt to buy organic, local, and/or seasonal. Local and seasonal food is usually sprayed with less or no pesticides, since they do not have to travel as far. Of course, the best way to learn and ensure you are getting high-quality food is to shop at the farmers market or join a CSA. You can ask the farmers directly about their farming practices. Buying 100% organic produce may not always be possible, but you should at least try to get organic for the vegetables (and fruits) that have the most pesticide residue. You can download the list onto your phone.  If none of these are options for you, start your own vegetable garden. Do what you can to feed yourself and your family more fresh vegetables.

Vegetables should be the star of your plate, not cast off to the side. So what are you waiting for?

radish

This is part one of a three-part series on vegetables. Next week, I will discuss simple ways to eat more vegetables and include a protein-balanced vegetable recipe. 

5 Really Good Reasons To Eat Seasonally

Eating seasonally makes me feel happier and there are traditions around seasonal food around the world. In India, mango season is celebrated religiously. Actually, most people in India refer to seasons by the foods available at that time of the year. Having grown up in the United States, I didn’t really experience the joys of seasonal eating, since most foods were available year round. Though, I distinctly remember mango and green flat bean season, since my family made a huge celebration out of them. These foods were bought at an international market and were internationally imported foods. I have never appreciated fresh food as much as I do now until I started eating them in season. That is when mango and bean season clicked and I gained a better appreciation for how the world works.

dino kale garden

Aside from culture, there are many reasons to eat seasonally. From a health perspective, eating fresh, seasonal food makes the most sense. Hopefully, the points I make below are enough to convince you to include seasonal foods in your life.

1. Variety. Cooking with the seasons breaks up the monotony of your meals. There comes a time at the end of each season, where I cannot wait for the arrival of new crops. I become bored with the flavors and crops by eating them at home and at every  local restaurant all season long. It almost makes me want to stop eating the vegetables and fruits altogether, which I suspect is the case for many people. However, by shopping at the farmers market, I am constantly introduced to new vegetables and fruits which help stave off boredom on the plate and palate. Even dining out at local restaurants becomes exciting, be able to experience and taste what the talented chefs can make with the seasonal food.

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2. Healthier. There are many health benefits to eating in season. Vegetables and fruits have the most nutrients when they are at their peak ripeness. The antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the food starts to decrease as soon as they are picked. Vegetables and fruit that are grown to travel long distances (1,500 miles on average) are picked before they can develop their full range of nutrients. Fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits usually travel a lot less and are exposed to a lot less heat and light (both degrade delicate vitamins). Also, you can buy seasonal food in its whole, unprocessed form, instead of canned or frozen varieties. Canned foods are usually soaked in sugars, salts, BPA and are highly processed. Frozen foods are a pretty good option when you do not have fresh food available, however, there is a bit of processing and nutrient loss that goes on when freezing the food.

3. Environment. Seasonal produce usually means local produce, which is also great for the environment and local community. As pointed out in #2, local foods travel a lot less and are fresher, thus they retain much of their nutritive value. Fewer green houses are produced and less fuel is used in transporting local food. Food that is closer to the source also has less, if any, preservatives and pesticides sprayed on them and are unprocessed. The best place to find local, seasonal food is at the farmers market or by subscribing to a CSA. Though, if these are not options for you, look for the local sign in the produce section of your grocery store. More and more grocery chains are catching on to the fact that people want higher quality food. Spring does not arrive in San Francisco at the same time it does in New York City; seasons change at different times everywhere. Seasonal food gives you the opportunity to connect with the land you live on and the people who grow your food.

4. Wide Range of Nutrients. This one is a slight combination of #1 and #2. Eating seasonally ensures you are eating a variety of nutrients. A magical vegetable or fruit that has all the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, micronutrients, and fiber your body needs just does not exist. There are some pretty powerful fruits and vegetables out there, but even they lack a little something. Thus, it’s important to eat a variety of food and the best way to avoid eating broccoli year round is to eat the food that is in season.

5. Taste. Quite simply, food grown in its rightful season tastes better. If you are not convinced, do a taste test. A winter tomato, grown indoors or in hot houses, does not taste anything like a tomato grown under the hot sun, picked right off the vine just before it got to you. The better the fruits and vegetables taste, the more likely you will eat them. The more you eat them, the more health benefits and happiness you will gain. Give the vegetables and fruits you wrote off a second chance, by eating them in the season they were always meant to be grown.

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Just shortly after experiencing seasonal food, I started to anticipate what the newest food will be at the farmers market. A partial reason, why I started Farmers Market Finds. I look forward to each season equally. Towards the end of winter, I start to look forward to asparagus, strawberries, and English peas. By mid-June, I can almost taste the heirloom tomatoes, peaches, and squash blossoms. And, by the end of September, I am making roasted butternut squash and thinking about Thanksgiving. In February, I am obsessing over blood oranges and kale.

What is your favorite food season and what do you anticipate eating most?  Please share your culture and food traditions with me. 

Whole Grain vs Refined Flour

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It is day 13 of January Rules and I am going strong. Interestingly, I have been presented with opportunities to eat processed flours- like croissant sandwiches, Mac n’ Cheese from Grub, and pizza from Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Constantly. I normally do follow the three rules of January Rules, or at least I thought I did. I have come to realize that my weakness for food made with refined flour is greater than I thought and I make a lot of exceptions. Pizza, croissants, desserts, breads, pasta- oh you name it and I love it. Unfortunately, all of these things are made with refined flours that have very little nutritional value and contribute to empty calories, fatigue, malnourishment, constipation, mood swings, and preventable chronic diseases.

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