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Tabouleh – an excellent salad option for a hot summer day. It’s made with fresh herbs, tomatoes, olive oil, spices and can be eaten with pita bread, or atop romaine lettuce leaves. In the Middle East, fresh grape leaves are used as a scoop.

Tabouleh made with quinoa.

Tabouleh made with quinoa.

You can add any number of vegetables to tabouleh – according to taste; carrots, cucumbers, red or green onions are wonderful additions.

As you can see, tomatoes are a star attraction – and since they are in season right now and delicious varieties are currently available at your farmers’ market, why not pick up a few good tomatoes and try some tabouleh tonight?

Prep Time: 40-50 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches of fresh parsley (1 1/2 cup chopped, with stems discarded)
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, finely chopped
  • 6 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup bulghur, medium grade (can also use cooked millet or quinoa as gluten free options)
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Preparation:

If using MILLET – add 1 cup of millet and a pinch of salt to 1-3/4 cup of water; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, stir, place lid on the pan and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Then stir to fluff the grains and taste. It it’s still a little crunchy, add about ¼ cup of boiling water and leave over low heat so that it will steam covered for an additional 10 minutes.

If using BULGUR: place 1 cup of bulghar in a bowl and cover with 1 ½ cups of boiling water and a dash of salt. Cover bowl and set aside for 20 or 30 minutes. Fluff with a fork when all the water has been absorbed.

Combine all ingredients, adding salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil last.

Serve immediately or chill in refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.

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July – absolutely the best time of year to source fresh, ripe, locally grown tomatoes. Farmers’ markets all around the metro DC area carry some really fabulous heirloom varieties. Here’s what to look for, and then how to store it and use it when you get home!

Look for red and ripe tomatoes. Lycopene, the star antioxidant available in tomatoes has a higher concentration when tomatoes are red and ripe.

Tomatoes should be FIRM, but yield to a little pressure; it is best to avoid tomatoes with bruises, cracks and a puffy appearance (Murray, et al., 2005).

Shy away from green: If the seeds of the tomatoes or any of the insides are green, than the tomato was most likely picked green and treated with ethylene gas to hasten its ripening. This is especially true for “vine-ripened” varieties that are priced higher than other conventionally grown tomatoes.

SMALL: There is more lycopene and vitamin C in tomato skins, therefore cherry and plum tomatoes are more nutritious and often taste sweeter than other varieties (Robinson, 2013).

ORGANIC: A ten-year study revealed that under the same climate conditions, organic tomatoes contained increased levels of the antioxidants, quercetin and kaempferol than conventionally grown tomatoes (Mitchell, et al., 2007). Choosing organic will also reduce consumer exposure to organophosphates, insecticides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified as acutely toxic to bees, wildlife and humans.

Or if you want to skip the fresh tomato and go straight for the salsa or sauce… Tomato products are great because processed tomatoes are more bio-available than raw tomatoes, pastes and sauces are a good choice if one is looking to increase dietary antioxidant intake.

When buying tomato products, consider the packaging. U.S. products follow more strict packaging regulations related to exposure to toxic metals, and plastic-lined cans which may release bisphenol A (BPA). This hormone disrupter more actively leaches into acidic foods like tomatoes. It is much safer to buy tomato products packed in glass jars or Tetra packs (Murray, et al., 2005 and Robinson, 2013).

References:

Environmental Protection Agency website: http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/about/intheworks/clothianidin-registration-status.html#basic Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene. http://www.Health.Alicious.Ness.com, Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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You know it, you’re going to bring home as many fresh tomatoes as you can carry from the farmers’ market! Here’s what to do when you get home:

Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature. If tomatoes have been refrigerated they should be allowed to recover at room temperature for a day or two before eating (McGee, 2004, p. 331). If unripe, tomatoes exposed to fruits and vegetables that emit ethylene gas (e.g. banana, apple, pear) can help to speed up ripening. Put tomatoes in a bag with one of these fruits (Murray, et al., 2005).

When preparing tomatoes, serve them with fat (olive oil is really great, or processed in sauces or salsa to increase lycopene bioavailability. Never cook in aluminum or cast iron, as tomato acid will bind to these metals and produce a metallic flavor to whatever your are cooking, and may have harmful effects on your health (Murray et al., 2005).

Other Factors to consider: Lycopene is one of several nutrients found in the tomato plant. While some of these natural chemicals provide fantastic benefits to human health, they are part of the tomato plant’s defense system; and help it fend off pest invasions as it grows. The tomato is part of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, meaning that part of this defense system includes a stockpile other chemical defenses, usually alkaloids, which can be toxic to some individuals, causing inflammation and allergic reactions for susceptible individuals (Murray, et al., 2005).

References:

McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

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July is typically when tomatoes ripen in northern climates. Farmers’ markets are heavily stocked with delicious ripe tomatoes in all types of heirloom varieties. The flavors offered in local fresh tomatoes are a giant leap from what you might find on supermarket shelves because tomatoes are one of many vegetables that taste much better when they are locally sourced or locally grown. Tomatoes also have healing power – especially when you convert them into a delicious sauce, salsa or juice.

photo by Lisa Missenda

photo by Lisa Missenda

The medicinal power of tomatoes is primarily attributed to their lycopene content. A red-colored plant nutrient from the carotenoid family, lycopene is one of the most efficient antioxidants; it prevents disease by scavenging and neutralizing free radicals before they can damage cellular structures (Murray, et al., 2005). To a lesser degree, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene, vitamin C, biotin, vitamin K and the flavonols, quercetin and kaempferol (Mitchell, et al., 2004 and Murray, et al., 2005).

Although other foods contain lycopene, tomatoes are the most popular source of lycopene in the U.S. diet, so tomatoes and tomato products are widely studied especially for their cancer-fighting potential. Most notably, a 22-year Harvard study showed a 21 percent decreased risk in prostate cancer in men who consumed 6.5 mg of dietary lycopene daily as compared to those consuming less (Murray, et al., 2005).

Other sources of lycopene include:

Tomato juice

1⁄2 cup

8,250 mcg*

Tomato, raw

3⁄4 cup

3,000 mcg

Guava, raw

1 medium

5,500 mcg

Watermelon, raw

3⁄4 cup

4,000 mcg

Guava juice

1⁄2 cup

3,500 mcg

Pink Grapefruit

Half

3,500 mcg

Rose hips puree

3/4 cup

800 mcg

Apricots, dried

3⁄4 cup

900 mcg

Papaya, fresh

3⁄4 cup

1828 mcg

Red cabbage, raw

3⁄4 cup

20 mcg

* stands for micrograms, also noted as μg; most phytonutrients are needed in small quantities measured in micro and milligrams. (Wildman, 2006, p. 57 & House, n.d.)

In terms of bioavailability, for the body to fully use tomato’s star nutrient, lycopene, it must be released from the food matrix, that is, all the components of the food and their molecular and chemical relationships to one another. As a carotenoid, lycopene’s chemical structure dictates that it can be released for the body’s use in the presence of fat and when the fiber content of the food is low. Therefore, processed tomato products (tomato juice, tomato paste, etc.) ingested with fat are better sources of bio-available lycopene than fresh tomatoes served with no fat (Gartner et al., 1997 & Brown, 2004).

That’s another reason why canning tomatoes and homemade tomato sauces is a great summer activity! You take advantage of local farmers’  fresh, ripe tomatoes, and then add them to make a super nutritious meal on a wintry day.

References:

Brown, M. J., Ferruzzi, M.G., Nguyen, M.L., Cooper, D.A., Eldridge, A.L., Schwartz, S.J., and White, W.S. (2004). Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, 396–403.
Gartner, C., Stahl, W., and Sies H. (1997). Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 66(1), 116-122.
House, P. (n.d.). Top 10 Foods Highest in Lycopene. http://www.Health.Alicious.Ness.com, Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Murray, M. Pizzorno, J., and Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Atria Books: New York, NY.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.
Wildman, R.E.C. (2006). Handbook of nutraceuticals and functional foods (2nd ed.). CRC Press: Boca Raton, FL. Google eBook.

In July, farmers’ markets in mid-Atlantic states are overloaded with fresh ripe tomatoes. Ask anyone who’s eaten a store-bought tomato – they just aren’t what they used to be… It’s true, tomatoes have come a long way through selection and breeding practices — but not all their flavor has been lost – and there are efforts afoot to rescue their long lost flavor and healing capabilities!  

Through centuries of plant breeding tomatoes were transformed from a bitter, berry-sized fruit that grew on bushes in the deserts of western South America, to a popular sweet-tart fruit, that most people consider a vegetable (McGee, 2004, p. 329). Over the past 30 years, however, careful selection of specific traits sacrificed its unique flavor to transform the tomato into a more hardy plant, that grows uniformly round, resistant to disease and able to grow on vines that do not sprawl (Beckles, 2012; Robinson, 2013).

Tomatoes found in supermarkets today are not allowed to ripen on the vine. If they were sold that way, by the time they were shipped to the supermarket they would be overripe, or on the verge of rotting. The tomato industry will pick tomatoes before they are ripe, usually when they show the first hint of color (at the breaker stage). This gives the industry up to 2 weeks to get the tomatoes to wherever they will be sold before they turn red. Ripening can also be speeded up through spraying them with ethylene gas at regional warehouses. This way consumers see red tomatoes in the market, that are not fully ripe. This is why people complain that tomatoes lack flavor these days.

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Photo by Lisa Missenda

Because the tomato varieties most available today have less taste and nutrient content than their predecessors, agronomists are now experimenting with heirloom varieties and with breeding back in some of the chemical components of the original fruit to improve their flavor (Allen, 2008). In spite of the losses, today’s tomato still delivers a number of specific phytonutrients optimized through growing processes, selection, storage and preparation.

One interesting study compared conventional and organic production of tomatoes over ten years and demonstrated statistically higher levels of the plant nutrients quercetin and kaempferol aglycones in organically grown tomatoes. Researchers saw increased levels of these nutrients in plants grown using organic methods (Mitchell, et al., 2007).

Try heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers’ market. They will have much more flavor than store bought tomatoes, because they will have been allowed to ripen on the vine.

 

References:

Allen, A. (2008). A passion for tomatoes. Smithsonian magazine, August, 2008 Retrieved December 14, 2013 from http:// http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/passion-for-tomatoes.html
Beckles, D. M. (2012). Factors affecting the postharvest soluble solids and sugar content of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) fruit. Postharvest Biology and Technology 63(1), 129–140.
McGee, H. (2004). On food and cooking: The science and lore of the kitchen (Revised). Scribner: New York, NY.
Mitchell, A.E., Hong, Y., Koh, E., Barrett, D.M., Bryant, D.E., Denison, R.F., and Kaffka, S., (2007). Ten-year comparison of the influence of organic and conventional crop management practices on the content of flavonoids in tomatoes. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry 55, 6154-6159.
Robinson, J. (2013). Eating on the wild side: The missing link to optimum health. Little, Brown and Company: New York, NY.

Colorful breakfast!

Colorful breakfast!

Okay, so let’s make it a baker’s dozen for the protein-rich breakfast series.

Protein-rich breakfast #13

This is an illustration of the basic black lentils and greens recipe I posted at the end of January. This time I sautéed 1 cup of cooked green lentils in olive oil, added 1 chopped tomato, some cumin, coriander, black pepper and salt for about 5 minutes. Then I added 2 cups of chopped Lacinato kale. I put on lid on the sauté pan and let it cook for about 3 minutes until the kale was soft.

After dishing plates for myself and my husband, we still had about 1 serving left (for lunch). I added a few slices of avocado and voila – a beautiful breakfast that kept me satisfied from 7 am until 1 pm!

Key take aways:

1- Experiment with what you have — the January 30 recipe called for black lentils, I had green – so I used them. It also called for coconut oil, but I just received the gift of some great olive oil so I used it; and we had no spinach, but had just purchased some really fresh Lacinato kale – so I used it. Making variations on basic recipes like this flexes your creativity bones and turns you into a great chef!

2- Include some protein (even 1/3 cup of lentils) and it helps to keep you feeling satisfied throughout the morning. In my case, a protein rich breakfast helps me fend off cravings when I get a little stressed or distracted while I work.

Thank you for reading the Protein-rich breakfast series!

There is something seriously wrong with the way the U.S. sets food policy. In many place people are not being paid fair prices for their work to produce the food. One of the most blatant practices has been brought to light by the Coalition for Immokolee Workers based on Florida. For years farm workers who pick tomatoes have been paid a mere penny per pound of tomatoes they pick – watch this video to see workers talking about this injustice in the following video.

In 2011 Congress will deliberate on a new farm bill, and as the debate unfolds I will be commenting on various aspects of the bill having to do with worker justice, ecological impact and health and nutrition implications. Stay tuned!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.

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